Overwhelming majority vote independence for Bougainville

A 97.7 percent majority has voted for independence in Bougainville's historic referendum.

The result of the autonomous Papua New Guinea region's non-binding independence vote was announced today in Buka by the Bougainville Referendum Commission.

Polling took place over two weeks, with voters asked to choose between Bougainville having continued autonomy within PNG or the second option, becoming independent.

The overwhelming majority vote for option 2 was achieved in a huge voter turnout, with over 85 percent of those enrolled having voted.

Before a packed Hutjena Hall on Buka, the commission's chairman, Bertie Ahern, announced that 176,928 of a total 181,067 people voted for independence.

As few as 3043 voted for greater autonomy.

The long-anticipated referendum is the ultimate provision of 2001's Bougainville Peace Agreement which followed a protracted civil war.

To come into effect, the result must be ratified by PNG's national parliament.

A joint taskforce formed between the PNG and Autonomous Bougainville governments is to conduct consultations on the result after the completion of the referendum.

There is uncertainty on both sides about how long this process might take, although PNG's cabinet is understood to be considering a process of up to ten years for a possible transition to independence.

PNG's Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, told those present in Buka Wednesday that both governments would adhere to the guidelines of the Peace Agreement, which did not determine a time frame for the consultation process.

Sir Puka said he wouldn't present the result to the parliament until after consultation has taken place.

"This is a transformational political announcement," he said, urging Bougainville to give PNG time to process the result.

Meanwhile, Mr Ahern, a former Irish prime minister, paid tribute to the people of Bougainville for their enthusiastic and peaceful participation in the process.

He wished both Bougainville and PNG governments all the best in their "ongoing journey" to navigate the next stage of this process.