Making a major breakthrough, Sri Lankan troops today captured the strategic northern town of Pooneryn, to open after 20 years the land-link to Tamil heartland of Jaffna and a buoyant President Mahinda Rajapaksa asked the LTTE to surrender and come for talks.
Government troops entered the main town after pitched battles with the Tiger rebels lasting over weeks, thus ending the LTTE domination of the town for nearly two decades and the triumph was announced by Rajapaksa in a televised address.
Along with the capture of the town, which was the hub of sea Tigers' activities, the Sri Lankan Forces also cleared the main A-32 coastal highway leading to the Jaffna lagoon, which forms the coastal land-link to Jaffna.
The Air Force deployed helicopter gunships to pound suspected tiger defences around Jaffna today in support of the infantry push.
The fall of Pooneryn will enable the Sri Lankan forces to reinforce their troops in Jaffna by land. So far, government troops were being supplied through air and sea.
"This morning our forces have captured Pooneryn and cleared the highway to Jaffna lagoon," the President was quoted by Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) as saying in his televised speech.
"On the occasion," Rajapaksa said, "I asked (Tiger Chief) Prabhakaran to lay down arms and come to the negotiating table."
"It will be of great help to people in the north if he gives up arms," the SLBC the President as saying.
There was no immediate word from the LTTE, whose website said it was only a claim by the Sri Lankan President.
Pooneryn was the last major LTTE naval point on the western coastal belt, from where the LTTE in the past have used their long-range artillery and mortar guns to fire at military targets.
The coastal town was wrested by the LTTE under the command of the now slain tiger political head S P Thamilchelvan in 1993 after they killed 700 troops defending it. The base was being used as a hub for sea tiger activities in the Kilali and Muhamalai areas in Jaffna.
Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wickremanayake claimed that the government troops were also closing in on Kilionochchi, the Tamil tigers' political headquarters.
According to defence experts Pooneryn is strategically more important than Killinochchi, which only carries a symbolic value.
Troops belonging to the Army's Task Force 1, entered and captured the LTTE's most important stronghold Pooneryn after months of heavy fighting this morning.
Infantrymen successfully negotiated the great marshlands south of Pooneryn last night and cut off the Pooneryn- Paranthan road close to Nallur before dawn today.
Troops then marched about 10 kms along the highway and entered the Pooneryn town, where the LTTE have their last bastion on the West coast, the military said.
According to the defence sources, the rebel fighters are putting up a stiff resistance and pitched battles were still going on in the area, as the Tigers were on retreat.
The capture of the coastal town would, according to defence experts, give a boost to Sri Lankan forces in their bid to storm into Kilinochchi.
Though the government forces have closed in on this important northern town, they have been locked in close combat for weeks.
Media and Information Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa in an interview to the SLBC said the tigers used this area to launch attacks on the security camps of the armed forces.
The Minister claimed that the struggle of the government to defeat the terrorism had the support of the international community. Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the strength of the security forces was under estimated in the past. Now that period is over, he said.
Meanwhile, troops completed mop up operations in the strategically located Devils Point area in Kilinochchi.
"With this the prominent Sea Tiger strongholds at Kiranchi, Vallaipadu and Palavi have fallen to the Army," the officials said.