Residents hold a Bougainville flag at a polling station during a non-binding independence referendum in Arawa. File photo/ Reuters
The South Pacific islands of Bougainville have overwhelmingly voted to be independent from Papua New Guinea, the referendum commission said on Wednesday, in a historic poll that will trigger separation negotiations between the two governments.
Almost 98% of the 181,067 votes cast backed independence in the non-binding poll that is part of a peace pact struck in the aftermath of a decade-long war between Bougainville's rebel fighters and PNG forces, which ended in 1998.
The referendum gave voters in the island cluster a choice between independence and greater autonomy.
Amid singing, dancing and the beat of drums, John Momis, the president of Papua New Guinea's region of Bougainville, was one of the first to cast his ballot early on Saturday
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