31 May 2005

PNG police guard ballot boxes ahead of count for Bougainville poll

10:21 am on 31 May 2005

Police in the Papua New Guinea province of Bougainville have mounted a 24-hour guard over hundreds of ballot boxes full of votes for the first autonomous government.

Australian Associated Press reports the election manager, Mathias Pihei, as saying he's very satisfied with the poll and expects counting to start tomorrow evening, with most results in by Thursday evening.

Bougainvilleans are choosing a president and 39-seat assembly after years of civil war and stagnation.

The election is a key step in the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement, brokered by New Zealand and Australia, and involving a referendum on possible independence from PNG in 10 to 15 years time.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people died in the province during nearly a decade of secessionist conflict which ended in 1998.