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PNG leader offended after Biden implies his uncle was eaten by cannibals in WWII

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape has accused Joe Biden of denigrating the South Pacific island nation by implying that an uncle of the U.S. president had been eaten by “cannibals” there during World War II.

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

The president spoke last week at a Pennsylvania war memorial about his uncle, Army Air Corps aviator 2nd Lt. Ambrose J. Finnegan Jr., who he said was shot down. Papua New Guineawhich was the scene of violent fighting.

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

Marape said in a statement Sunday that Biden “appeared to imply that his uncle was eaten by cannibals.”

“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 provided by his office to The Associated Press on Monday.

“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 added.

This break comes as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese began a visit to Papua New Guinea on Monday. Australia’s closest neighbor. Albanese and Marape will commemorate the strong defense ties between the two countries by walking part of a crucial battlefield known as the Kokoda Track later this week.

“I am convinced that PNG has no stronger partner than Australia and that our defense and security ties have never been stronger,” Albanese told reporters before leaving Australia .

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that Biden was talking about the courage of his uncle and the many U.S. service members who risked their lives.

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

Biden’s account that Finnegan’s plane was shot down was not supported by military records. Finnegan was a passenger on a Douglas A-20 Havoc transport plane that crashed into the ocean after both engines failed on May 14, 1944, according to a report. Pentagon report.

One crew member survived but no trace was found of the plane or three other people on board, including Finnegan.

Marape’s statement was released the same day he met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Port Moresby to discuss establishing closer relations.

Marape also called on the United States to recover its war dead from the jungles of Papua New Guinea and clean up the rubble of war.

“Remains from World War II are scattered across PNG, including the plane that carried President Biden’s uncle,” Marape said.

“Given President Biden’s comments and the strong response from PNG and other parts of the world, perhaps it is time for the United States to recover as many World War II remains as possible in PNG, including those of military personnel who lost their lives like Ambrose. Finnegan,” he said.

“The theaters of war in PNG and the Solomon Islands are numerous and littered with remnants of the Second World War, including human remains, plane wrecks, shipwrecks, tunnels and bombs. Our people live daily in fear of being killed by the bombs of World War II,” Marape added.

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