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Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Rebukes Biden Over Alleged Cannibalism Remarks

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, James Marape, publicly criticized U.S. President Joe Biden, alleging that remarks made by Biden implied an ancestor of his was consumed by cannibals in Papua New Guinea during World War II.

The comments have sparked diplomatic tension at a time when China is increasing its influence in the Pacific region.

Last week, during a speech at a Pennsylvania war memorial, President Biden recounted the story of his uncle, Second Lt. Ambrose J. Finnegan Jr., an Army Air Corps aviator, who was reportedly shot down over Papua New Guinea—a key World War II battleground.

Biden mentioned, “They never found the body because there used to be—there were a lot of cannibals for real in that part of New Guinea.”

In response, Marape expressed his dismay, stating, “President Biden’s remarks may have been a slip of the tongue; however, my country does not deserve to be labelled as such.”

He emphasized that the events of World War II were beyond the control of his people, who were “needlessly dragged into a conflict that was not their doing.”

The controversy comes as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese began his visit to Papua New Guinea to strengthen defense ties, including a planned visit to the historic Kokoda Track.

Albanese affirmed, “I’m very confident that PNG has no stronger partner than Australia and our defense and security ties have never been stronger.”

Meanwhile, the White House sought to clarify Biden’s comments, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre explaining that the President was emphasizing the bravery of his uncle and other U.S. service members, rather than making a historical claim about cannibalism.

“He takes this very seriously. His uncle, who served and protected this country, lost his life serving. And that should matter,” she stated.

Further complicating matters, military records contradict Biden’s account, showing that Finnegan was a passenger on a Douglas A-20 Havoc transport plane that crashed due to engine failure in 1944, with no evidence of it being shot down or involved in combat.

On the same day as Biden’s controversial remarks, Marape met with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss enhanced bilateral relations, underscoring the geopolitical sensitivity of the situation.

Marape also urged the U.S. to prioritize recovery efforts for its war dead scattered across Papua New Guinea’s jungles and to address wartime wreckage.

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

He proposed that the incident could serve as a catalyst for the U.S. to intensify efforts to recover the remains of service members, including Finnegan, highlighting the ongoing legacy of the war’s impact on the region.

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