Papua New Guinea leader blasts Biden for claiming his uncle was eaten by cannibals

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said Monday that he was offended by President Biden’s recent comments suggesting his uncle was eaten by cannibals in the Oceanic nation during World War II.

Marape expressed disappointment in a statement Monday that Biden would suggest his nation was rife with cannibals, noting also that Papua New Guinea was unwillingly pulled into the global conflict in the 1940s. Biden’s comments suggesting his uncle, 2nd Lt. Ambrose J. Finnegan Jr., was eaten in Papua New Guinea, came during a speech to a steelworkers union in Pittsburgh last week.

‘President Biden’s remarks may have been a slip of the tongue; however, my country does not deserve to be labeled as such,’ Marape said in a statement. ‘World War II was not the doing of my people; however, they were needlessly dragged into a conflict that was not their doing.’

‘The remains of WWII lie scattered all over PNG, including the plane that carried President Biden’s uncle,’ he continued. ‘Perhaps, given President Biden’s comments and the strong reaction from PNG and other parts of the world, it is time for the USA to find as many remains of World War II in PNG as possible, including those of servicemen who lost their lives like Ambrose Finnegan.’

Marape added that Papua New Guinea citizens continue to live in fear of active bombs dating back to the 20th-century conflict. He said the country is littered with human remains, plane and ship wrecks, tunnels and bombs from World War II.

On Wednesday, during his speech at the United Steelworkers headquarters, Biden recalled his uncle’s military service and how he flew a single-engine plane for the U.S. Army to collect reconnaissance. The president said Finnegan was gunned down in Papua New Guinea and his body was never recovered, pointing to the existence of cannibals in the nation.

‘And he got shot down in New Guinea, and they never found the body because there used to be – there were a lot of cannibals, for real, in that part of New Guinea,’ Biden said.

After the comments were criticized, though, the White House defended the president. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that Biden made the comments while having an ’emotional moment.’

‘So, his uncle, who lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea. The president highlighted his uncle’s story as he made the case for honoring our sacred commitment to equip those we send to war and take care of them and their families when they come home,’ Jean-Pierre said.

Meanwhile, Biden’s remarks came days after his latest call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 2. Papua New Guinea has emerged as a potential strategic ally amid tensions between the U.S. and China.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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