Papua New Guinea will seek to ensure a likely majority vote for independence in its autonomous region doesn't trigger a break-up of the state, says PNG's Minister for Bougainville Affairs.
Sir Puka Temu was on hand in Bougainville at the weekend to witness the beginning of a two week polling period for the region's non-binding independence referendum.
Sir Puka praised the conduct of the referendum to date, saying it was clear Bougainvilleans will vote overwhelmingly for independence.
The Bougainville Peace Agreement provided for space for PNG to be able to manage how to process the result, he said.
"I'm really happy that the leaders who signed the Bougainville Peace Agreement made two very important decisions.
"That is that the consultation process was locked up in the amendment to the national constitution, and the word ratification was not used in that amendment - it was 'consultation' after the vote.
"Secondly, the Bougainville Peace Agreement did not determine a time frame for the consultation process. So that has given both PNG and Bougainville enormous space to sit down under the Melanesian spirit and talk about it."
After completion of the referendum process, including a 40-day period to allow for disputes of results, the two governments are expected to announce how the consultation process will proceed.
Sir Puka said the process was a big political change in the PNG context.
"So we are urging Bougainvilleans and their leaders to allow mainland Papua New Guinea to help process this result," he said.
"We need time, we need to go back to our leaders around the country and say 'look, this is what Bougainville has voted for - independence'.
"We need to agree at our level that if eventually the consultation outcome is independence, then on the mainland we have to agree and build the constitutional provisions for independence, provisions for no other part of the country to ask for independence, because we want a united PNG all along."
Asked whether there was a danger, if left up to PNG national leaders, that the Bougainville question would become politicised, Sir Puka said the issue would be carefully managed.
"We are not going to go out and openly consult everybody," he said.
"We have a team of about 25 that the National Executive Council has approved the criteria for - to be young people (two representatives), women, business houses, NGOs, four regional representations, church representatives."
"The team will be supported by the consultation forums that we will create. They'll feed up to the consultation team and then sit down with their Bougainville counterparts.
"Right now it's really the leadership that is needed at the prime minister and the president level, and we've also agreed to have a moderator.
"We will be announcing the name of the internationally recognised moderator. In case there is an impasse, the moderator will be on call."
Meanwhile, the minister rejected a suggestion that Bougainvilleans are ill-informed to vote in their referendum.
On the eve of polling, PNG's former prime minister Peter O'Neill said he was concerned at the level of awareness among voters to make an informed decision.
However, Sir Puka said people had been very well informed following the joint roadshows between the governments of PNG and the Autonomous Bougainville region.
"I think it's wrong for the former prime minster to say there hasn't been sufficient time for awareness," he said.
"I think, given the resources, and given the time frame, I think we have all done an excellent job."
During the referendum's critical next stage of consultation, awareness campaigns to keep Bougainvilleans informed would be ongoing, he said.