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Last Updated: Monday, 6 June, 2005, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
President elected in Bougainville
Mr Ona appears in public for first time in 16 years at rally in March
Joseph Kabui was a close ally of rebel leader Francis Ona (in blue)
The South Pacific island of Bougainville has elected a president for its new autonomous government.

Former separatist rebel Joseph Kabui beat his nearest rival, former governor John Momis, by 14,000 votes.

The poll has been seen as a key test of a UN-brokered peace deal, which ended a 10-year separatist campaign by rebels hoping to secede from Papua New Guinea.

New Zealand election observer Andrew Ladley called Mr Kabui's win a "landslide victory".

But Mr Momis questioned the results, and said he was considering a legal challenge.

"A new day is now dawning today," Mr Kabui told local media on Monday.

"Today is also the journey to see that Bougainville is no longer a province of PNG [ Papua New Guinea] but it is an autonomous region in PNG. That everyone must understand now," he said.

Mr Kabui, head of the People's Congress Party, is a former ally of Francis Ona, who led the separatist campaign that left up to 15,000 people dead.

The rebellion began in 1989 as a dispute over land and alleged environmental damage between islanders and multinational copper mining companies.

But it became a brutal war of independence, involving government forces, well-armed militias and foreign mercenaries.

Under a deal signed in August 2001, the two sides agreed that Bougainville should have greater self-government and eventually a referendum on independence, within 10-15 years.

The election of an autonomous government is being seen as a major test of the agreement, and an important step towards full independence.

Bougainville's fledgling administration will run the island, with Papua New Guinea's federal government retaining control over defence and the economy.

Voting lasted a fortnight because of the island's rugged terrain. Some of the electorate had to walk for days or travel by canoe to reach polling stations.

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17 May 05 |  Country profiles

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