Papua New Guinea leader takes offence as Biden implies cannibals ate his uncle

Papua New Guinea Leader Takes Offence As Biden Implies Cannibals Ate His Uncle
James Marape, © Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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By Rod McGuirk, AP

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape has accused Joe Biden of disparaging the South Pacific island nation by implying that an uncle of the US President had been eaten by “cannibals” there during the Second World War.

Mr Biden’s comments offended a key strategic ally as China moves to increase its influence in the region.


The US President spoke at a Pennsylvania war memorial last week about his US Army Air Corps aviator uncle Ambrose Finnegan, who was shot down over Papua New Guinea, which saw heavy fighting during the war.



“They never found the body because there used to be — there were a lot of cannibals for real in that part of New Guinea,” Mr Biden said, referring to the country’s main island.

Mr Marape said Mr Biden “appeared to imply his uncle was eaten by cannibals”.

In a statement, he added: “President Biden’s remarks may have been a slip of the tongue; however, my country does not deserve to be labelled as such.”

“World War Two was not the doing of my people; however, they were needlessly dragged into a conflict that was not their doing,” Mr Marape added.


The rift comes as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese began a visit on Monday to Papua New Guinea, Australia’s nearest neighbour.

Mr Albanese and Mr Marape will commemorate strong defence ties between the two countries by walking part of a pivotal battle ground known as the Kokoda Track later this week.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden spoke about the disappearance of his uncle during the Second World War (AP)


“I’m very confident that PNG has no stronger partner than Australia and our defence and security ties have never been stronger,” Mr Albanese told reporters before departing Australia.

The US Embassy in Port Moresby did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr Marape’s statement was released on the same day he met China’s foreign minister Wang Yi in Port Moresby to discuss building closer relations.

Papua New Guinea’s leader also called on the US to find its war dead in Papua New Guinea’s jungles and to clean up the wreckage of war.


“The remains of World War Two lie scattered all over PNG, including the plane that carried President Biden’s uncle,” Mr Marape said.

“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 Two in PNG as possible, including those of servicemen who lost their lives like Ambrose Finnegan,” he said.

“The theatres of war in PNG and Solomon Islands are many, and littered with the remains of World War Two including human remains, plane wrecks, ship wrecks, tunnels and bombs. Our people daily live with the fear of being killed by detonated bombs of World War Two,” Mr Marape added.

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