South Pacific region of Bougainville has voted overwhelmingly in a non-binding referendum that could see it become the world's newest nation.
Before now, Bougainville is an Island in Papua New Guinea, but citizens of the Island have carried out a referendum which showed a landmark step towards breaking out to form their own country.
According to the official results from the referendum, almost 98 percent of the 181,067 votes cast backed independence in the non-binding poll.
Bertie Ahern, the chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, announced the results a few hours ago, adding that just 3,043 voters supported the option of Bougainville remaining part of Papua New Guinea, albeit with more autonomy.
However, the result of the referendum must be ratified by the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea, where there is some opposition to the move. But, the scale of the victory for the pro-independence side will heap pressure on the Port Moresby parliament to recognize the result.
Al Jazeera reports that a landmark vote is a vital part of a 2001 peace agreement struck in the aftermath of a decade-long war between Bougainville's rebel fighters, PNG forces and foreign mercenaries, which ended in 1998 and killed up to 20,000 people - 10 percent of the population.
Speaking in Buka, Ahern urged all sides to recognize the result and said the vote was about "your peace, your history, and your future" and showed "the power of the pen over weapons".
"The referendum is one part of that ongoing journey," said Ahern.
Al Jazeera further reports that voting began on November 23 with ecstatic residents - some festooned in grass garlands - forming makeshift choirs that stomped through the streets, waving independence flags, blowing bamboo pipes and chanting in chorus.
The violence in Bougainville began in the late 1980s, triggered by conflict over an enormous opencast copper mine at Panguna.
The mine was a huge export earner for PNG, 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.
About Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea, in the southwestern Pacific, encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore islands. A country of immense cultural and biological diversity, it's known for its beaches and coral reefs. Inland are active volcanoes, granite Mt. Wilhelm, dense rainforest and hiking routes like the Kokoda Trail. There are also traditional tribal villages, many with their languages. (Wikipedia)
About Bougainville Island
Bougainville Island is the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville of Papua New Guinea. This region is also known as Bougainville Province or the North Solomons. Its land area is 9,300 km. (Wikipedia)
Header Image Credit: Melvin Levongo/Reuters