COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's president on Saturday asked Tamil Tigers to surrender after troops claimed re-taking a strategically-important town from the separatist guerrillas following months of heavy fighting. President Mahinda Rajapakse said in a televised address to the nation that security forces had wrested control of the town of Pooneryn and the main northwestern coastal A-32 route in the morning. "The entire A-32 road and Pooneryn was captured by our security forces," the president said. "On this occasion, I ask (Tiger chief Velupillai) Prabhakaran to lay down arms and immediately come for talks." "The best thing he can do for the (Tamil) people in the north is to lay down arms and surrender," he said. Pooneryn had been a Tiger stronghold since 1993 when the rebels overran the main military base after killing some 700 soldiers in a three-day offensive codenamed "unceasing waves". The separatist rebels had also used the coastal area to launch artillery strikes against a military airbase on the northern edge of the government-controlled Jaffna peninsula vulnerable to long-range attacks. Defence officials said the Tigers appeared to have removed their 130-millimeter artillery guns from Pooneryn and taken them inland. The defence ministry described Saturday's capture of Pooneryn as the "greatest feat against terrorists" along the island's northwestern seaboard. The ministry said troops were closing in on the town of Kilinochchi, the political capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) further south. "Pitched battles are still going on in the area," the ministry said. "The terrorists are fast withdrawing" to the northwest. Sri Lanka's defence establishment has, however, made repeated claims since September that Kilinochchi is about to fall. But it later said stiff rebel resistance and monsoon rains had impeded the assault. Meanwhile, the air force deployed helicopter gunships to pound suspected Tiger strongholds in the Jaffna peninsula on Saturday morning in support of ground troops in the area, the military said. The LTTE has been fighting since 1972 to carve out a homeland for minority Tamils from the majority Sinhalese community. Tens of thousands of people on both sides have been killed in the conflict. The latest reports came shortly before the country's parliament approved a new war budget allocating a record 1.6 billion dollars for defence in 2009, up from 1.5 billion dollars this year. The government is banking on a military success against the Tamil Tiger rebels after pulling out of a moribund Norwegian-arranged truce in January. Security forces have in recent months stepped up their offensive in a bid to capture Kilinochchi, the town where the Tigers have received visiting foreign dignitaries.