Bougainville has taken a major step towards becoming the world's newest nation by voting overwhelmingly for independence from Papua New Guinea.
Bertie Ahern, the former Irish prime minister and head of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, announced Wednesday that 98 percent of the more than 180,000 votes cast in the two-week referendum favored breaking away from Port Moresby. Voters also had the choice of greater autonomy from Papua New Guinea.
The non-binding referendum was part of the 2001 peace agreement that formally ended the 1988-98 civil war between Bougainville rebels and Papua New Guinea security forces over revenues from a lucrative copper mine in the town of Panguna. The conflict left between 15-20,000 people dead.
With the referendum decided, leaders of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea will enter into negotiations over the timetable for independence. The issue will then be taken up by Papua New Guinea's legislature, which could take years to ratify any agreement.