Bougainville independence vote from PNG scheduled for Nov 23 to Dec 7

MELBOURNE, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Voting in the Pacific island of Bougainville’s referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG) will be held between Nov. 23 and Dec. 7, the referendum commission said.

The referendum will decide whether Bougainville becomes an independent nation or has greater autonomy within PNG.

The Bougainville Referendum Commission said in a statement issued late on Friday that Dec. 20 would be the latest date the Referendum Writ would be returned.

The outcome of the referendum, which analysts expect to support independence, will be subject to ratification by PNG’s parliament.

The chair of the commission, former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, said the “world is watching” the voting and he wanted the process to be a joyful celebration.

“I congratulate the two governments and the people of Bougainville for reaching this historic point – one more step in an historic and internationally regarded peace process,” Ahern said in a statement.

The vote has been delayed twice this year, with the need to create a more credible electoral roll being given as a reason for the delay. More than 202,000 people are now enrolled to vote in the referendum.

Under a peace agreement signed after a nine-year civil war with the PNG mainland that ended in 1998, Bougainville has until mid-2020 to hold the referendum.

The civil war was largely about how profits from a giant copper mine, Panguna, should be shared, and it forced miner Rio Tinto to abandon the mine.

At the time, the mine was the largest source of export revenue for Papua New Guinea and comprised about 7% of global copper production.

The conflict between Bougainville’s rebel guerrilla army and Papua New Guinea forces left as many as 20,000 dead, the worst conflict in the Oceania region since World War Two. (Reporting by Will Ziebell; editing by Christian Schmollinger)