Bougainville residents overwhelmingly vote to become world's newest nation

December 12, 2019, 1:15 p.m.

Residents of the region of Bougainville, a group of South Pacific islands, have voted overwhelmingly to become independent from Papua New Guinea. Although there are many more steps to take, the region could be on its way to becoming the world's newest nation.

Nearly 98% of those who voted in early December supported independence, according to The New York Times. The referendum was part of a 2001 peace agreement that ended a civil war.

The results were cheered, Time reports, but now the process continues as the vote was nonbinding. Leaders from Bougainville and Papua New Guinea will negotiate, with lawmakers in the Papua New Guinea Parliament then making the final call. The process could take years to finalize.

On White Island, Bougainville About 300,000 people live on the islands of Bougainville. (Photo: Jeremy Weate [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

There are about 300,000 people who live in the region — most in villages on Bougainville Island and Buka Island and a collection of smaller islands, according to Reuters. The town of Buka on Buka Island is the current capital.

The primary language is Tok Pisin, a type of pidgin English spoken in Papua New Guinea. However, there are at least 19 indigenous languages also spoken in the region, Reuters reports.

Tension and violence have plagued the area since the 1980s due to conflict over a giant copper mine opened in Panguna. The mine was lucrative for Papua New Guinea, but many residents of Bougainville thought they didn't benefit and instead were subjected to pollution and disruption from the mine.

Violence shut down the mine and resulted in years of civil war. Some people believe that it could be reopened and become a source of revenue for the area if it becomes an independent nation, Time reports.