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Papua New Guinea: Biden’s controversial ‘cannibalism’ remarks meet pushback

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Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape has objected to US President Joe Biden’s recent remarks on cannibalism in the Pacific during World War II.


US President Joe Biden’s apparent suggestion that his uncle may have been eaten by cannibals during World War II has sparked an outcry in Papua New Guinea, casting a shadow over US relations with the Pacific nation and meeting a firm response from its leader.

In controversial remarks made last week following a visit to a war memorial, Biden twice suggested that the United States was unable to recover the remains of his uncle Ambrose Finnegan after his plane crashed near the island of New Guinea during the war “because there was a lot of stuff.” of cannibals” in the region.

In a statement released Monday by his office, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape acknowledged that Biden may have misspoke, but he objected to the characterization of cannibalism in the island nation of the Pacific, which encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and more than 600 nearby residents. he is.

“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.

While cannibalism was documented among the region’s isolated tribes in the mid-20th century, Papua New Guinea has struggled to shed stereotypes in recent decades, and Biden’s comments have been criticized at the interior of the country.

“PNG should not be seen as cannibalistic because of our past history. We are part of modern civilization,” said one comment on social platform X.

“What bullshit is he talking about?” asked another X user in Port Moresby, the capital of PNG.

In a Facebook post, PNG Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko warned that Biden’s “ill-informed remarks” could damage relations between the countries, which have deepened in recent years as Washington vies for influence with Beijing in the strategically important Pacific.

“These apparently false remarks by the sitting president constitute a low point in our bilateral relations,” Tkatchenko said.

Tens of thousands of soldiers, including around 7,000 Americans, were killed in New Guinea during heavy fighting between the Imperial Japanese Army and Allied forces during World War II, according to the Australian War Memorial. Many remains have never been found.

In his statement Monday, Marape called on the United States to help find the remains of those killed during the conflict.

“World War II was not the work of my people; however, they were unnecessarily drawn into a conflict for which they were not responsible,” Marape said.

“I urge President Biden to ask the White House to consider cleaning up these remnants of World War II so that the truth about missing service members like Ambrose Finnegan can be dispelled. »

The U.S. Embassy in PNG responded to Biden’s comments on Wednesday, saying the United States “respects the people and culture of Papua New Guinea and remains committed to promoting respectful relations between our democracies.”

“President Biden highlighted his uncle’s story in pleading for upholding our sacred commitment to equip those we send to war,” the embassy said in a statement.

“The U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency are dedicated to locating and recovering WWII remains in Papua New Guinea.”

01:46 – Source: CNN

CNN fact-checks Biden’s misleading claims on the campaign trail

Biden made the controversial remarks on April 17 after visiting a memorial in Pennsylvania.

“He was shot in an area where there were a lot of cannibals in New Guinea at the time. They never found his body,” he said of his uncle.

Biden blamed cannibalism more directly in a speech later that day, saying that Finnegan “had been shot in New Guinea, and they never found the body because there were — there were a lot of cannibals, for real, in this part of New Guinea. .”

The president’s account of his uncle’s death differs from that published by the Defense POW/MIA accounting agency, which says Finnegan’s plane, an A-20 Havoc bound for New Guinea on a courier flight , was “forced to land in the ocean” off the coast of the island “for unknown reasons”.

Biden’s comments come almost a year after he canceled what would have been the first trip to PNG by a sitting US president, due to debt ceiling negotiations at home.

Asked about the remarks, the White House did not repeat Biden’s claims about cannibals or his uncle’s plane being shot down.

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