Joe Biden: Leader of Papua New Guinea takes offence at US president's suggestion his uncle may have been eaten by cannibals

Joe Biden suggested his uncle’s body had been eaten by cannibals on Papua New Guinea

Relations between the US and Papua New Guinea have taken a sour turn – after Joe Biden suggested his uncle had been eaten by a cannibal on the South Pacific island.

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape said the US president’s words about the death of his uncle, who disappeared during World War Two, were offensive to the country.

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“President Biden’s remarks may have been a slip of the tongue – however, my country does not deserve to be labelled as such,” Mr Marape said. “World War Two was not the doing of my people. However, they were needlessly dragged into a conflict that was not their doing.”

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape. Picture: AFP via Getty ImagesPapua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape. Picture: AFP via Getty Images
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

Mr Biden was speaking at a Pennsylvania war memorial last week about his Army Air Corps aviator uncle Ambrose Finnegan, whose plane crashed over Papua New Guinea 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. touching his uncle’s name on the memorial.

However, there has been debate as to whether the plane actually crashed on land on the island, or experienced engine failure over the sea.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said later that Mr Finnegan “lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea”.

Japanese forces first landed on the island, then known as New Guinea, in March 1942. The conflict continued there to the end of World War Two in the summer of 1945.

Mr Marape 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," Marape said.

Experts have claimed cannibalism was not common – and instead would be reserved for specific rituals, such as eating the body of a deceased relative as a mark of respect – and that native people would not eat the body of soldiers found in the jungle.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi made an official visit to the island at the weekend.

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