Bougainville overwhelmingly votes to become independent country

Australia could soon have a new neighbouring country, with Bougainville voting for its independence.

Voters from Selau gather at Buka Market in Bougainville.

Voters from Selau gather at Buka Market in Bougainville. Source: AAP

The autonomous region of Bougainville has overwhelmingly voted to break away from Papua New Guinea and become an independent country.

Results of the historic referendum were announced on Wednesday, with 176,928 votes for independence out of 181,067 ballots.

Voters proudly show off the flag of Bougainville, the symbol of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, as they head to cast their ballots.
Source: SBS News

Residents were asked to choose between greater autonomy from Papua New Guinea or full independence.

But the referendum is non-binding and a vote for independence now needs to be negotiated between leaders from Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.

The final say will then go to the Papua New Guinea Parliament.

This means the process of becoming a separate nation could still take years to achieve.

The referendum was a key part of a 2001 peace agreement that ended a civil war in which at least 15,000 people died across the cluster of islands to the east of the Papua New Guinea mainland.

The violence in Bougainville began in the late 1980s, triggered by conflict over an enormous open-cast copper mine at Panguna.

The mine was a huge export earner for Papua New Guinea but many in Bougainville felt they received no benefit and resented the pollution and disruption of their traditional way of living.

The mine has remained shut since the conflict. Some believe it could provide a revenue source for Bougainville should it become independent.

Additional reporting: AAP

Published 11 December 2019 at 3:25pm, updated 11 December 2019 at 4:45pm
By Nick Baker