(CNN)An autonomous region of Papua New Guinea has voted overwhelmingly to leave the country and form a new independent nation, authorities announced on Wednesday.
More than 181,000 people voted in the independence referendum in Bougainville, a group of islands that sit on one of the world's largest copper mines, off the east coast of mainland Papua New Guinea. On Wednesday afternoon, the referendum committee announced that nearly 98% had voted for independence, with less than 2% voting to remain with increased autonomy.
The results were met with celebration in Bougainville, where the results were announced in the city of Buka. Spectators at the scene whooped and cheered, and a group of women broke into song, said Gordon Peake of the Australian National University, who attended the announcement.
Bougainville, formerly an Australian colonial territory, has had a fractious relationship with Papua New Guinea since joining the country in 1976. There were failed attempts at independence then, before simmering discontent erupted into a nine-year civil war that left thousands of people dead.
The vote is a significant indicator of public sentiment, but is non-binding, and will now need to be approved by the Papua New Guinea parliament before Bougainville can become its own country.
Bougainville independence campaigners are bracing for this next step; the copper mine, estimated to be worth $58 billion, has long been a point of territorial contention. The civil war had in part been over a dispute about the mine's management, and some predict Papua New Guinea will be reluctant to lose access to the region's valuable natural resources.