The Pacific people of Bougainville will on Saturday begin voting in a historic referendum to decide if they want to become the world’s newest nation by gaining independence from Papua New Guinea. The referendum will run over two weeks and is a key part of a 2001 peace agreement that ended a brutal civil war in which at least 15,000 people died in the cluster of islands east of the Papua New Guinea mainland. Experts believe the 250,000 people of Bougainville will vote overwhelmingly in favor of independence ahead of the other option, which is greater autonomy, the AP reports. But the vote will not be the final word. The referendum is nonbinding and a vote for independence would then need to be negotiated by leaders from both Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.
The final say would then go to lawmakers in the Papua New Guinea Parliament. Gianluca Rampolla, the UN resident coordinator in Papua New Guinea, says the world body has been working hard to ensure the vote is peaceful, transparent, inclusive, and credible. He says there are 40 UN staffers on the ground and more than 100 international observers. He says he thinks it unlikely there will be violence during voting. "They've been waiting 19 years for this historic moment," says Rampolla. "I think they will be left with joy." Just over 200,000 people are eligible to vote in the referendum, with the results due to be announced in mid-December. Rampolla says the extended voting period of two weeks is due to the region’s rugged terrain.
(Read more Papua New Guinea