Voting has begun in a referendum on the independence of Bougainville from Papua New Guinea, with a team from the Commonwealth deployed to observe the process.
The four-member Commonwealth Observer Group is led by Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati.
The non- binding referendum, to be held from 23 November to 13 December, is guaranteed under the Bougainville Peace Agreement of 2001, which came after a decade-long civil war.
Voters will choose between greater autonomy within Papua New Guinea or full independence.
Speaking after constituting the group, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “I want to thank His Excellency Anote Tong and the other members of the group for accepting my invitation to undertake this historic assignment on behalf of the Commonwealth.
“Conducting a credible, inclusive and peaceful referendum on the future political status of Bougainville is a vital element of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, which the Commonwealth family supports”.
The results of the referendum will be conveyed to the Governor-General for consultation by the government of Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville Government. The national parliament will then make a final decision in accordance with the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the National Constitution.
Commonwealth observers will assess all factors affecting the credibility of the referendum process as a whole. They will consider the pre-referendum environment, the voting process, counting and tabulation procedures, and the result announcement.
The Observer Group is independent and will decide whether the referendum has been conducted according to the standards of Papua New Guinea’s and Bougainville’s referendum-related legislation and regulations as well as relevant regional, Commonwealth and international commitments.
Observers will act impartially and will adhere to the standards of the International Declaration of Principles for Election Observation, to which the Commonwealth is a signatory.
The Group will submit its report to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, who will share it with the Governments of Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, the Bougainville Referendum Commission, other stakeholders and all Commonwealth Governments. The report will then be made public.