By Netani Rika, Buka-: Bougainville
KEY figures in the Bougainville peace process have cast their votes as the territory decides on independence.
President John Momis of thr Autonomous Bougainville Government voted on Day One at Bel Isi Ground, Buka.
Former combatants Chris Uma and Ishmael Toroama voted in Arawa as people on all sides of the island's political landscape turned out in significant numbers. Toroama was head of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army which waged a 10-year war of independence against Papua New Guinea from 1989. After the end of hostilities, negotiations led to a peace agreement which guaranteed a referendum. The agreement led to a split in the BRA and the Me'ekamui Freedom Front, now led by Uma was formed.
Bougainville Referendum Commissioner, Mauricio Claudio, said there had been no security issues. "All 21 polling stations opened with consistent reports of positive voter experience," Claudio said. "We sincerely thank voters for coming our to cast their vote."
International observers from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat have kept close watch over the process. An unarmed regional police support group is present on Bougainville to monitor the security situation and help local law enforcement agencies.
Today (Monday) voters in North Bougainville will vote at 71 stations in 14 constituencies. Ballot boxes were taken to remote atoll sites yesterday and voting there begins tomorrow. Voters have two choices in the referendum - independence or greater autonomy.
Following the results, expected in mid-December, the Bougainville and PNG governments will enter into negotiations on how to implement the outcome.