Papua New Guinea PM responds to Biden's 'cannibals' comment

By Isaac M April 22, 2024

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has accused Joe Biden of insulting his country after the US president implied his uncle had been eaten by cannibals on the island in the 1940s.

Mr Biden made the comments about his uncle Ambrose J Finnegan while visiting a Pennsylvania war memorial last week.

Mr Finnegan, who had served with the Army Air Corps during the Second World War, was involved in a plane crash in Papua New Guinea in 1944.

“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.

Prime Minister James Marape said in a statement on Sunday that Mr Biden “appeared to imply 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 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,” he added.

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‘There were a lot of cannibals’

The prime minister also called on the US to locate its war dead in the country and to clean up the wreckage of war.

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

“Perhaps, given President Biden’s comments and the strong reaction from Papua New Guinea and other parts of the world, it is time for the USA to find as many remains of World War Two in Papua New Guinea as possible, including those of servicemen who lost their lives like Ambrose Finnegan.

“The theatres of war in Papua New Guinea 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.”

U.S. President Joe Biden touches the name of his uncle, Ambrose J. Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, as he visits a war memorial in Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 17, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
Image:
Biden touched the name of his uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan, on a war memorial in Pennsylvania. Pic: Reuters


There appears to be no record of Mr Finnegan’s death being the result of hostile action or any indication that cannibals played a part in the inability to recover his remains, according to the US defence department.

Military records show he was killed when the reconnaissance plane he was in crashed in the Pacific Ocean off the northern coast of New Guinea in May 1944 after engine failure.

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

“I’m very confident that Papua New Guinea 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 has not yet commented on Mr Marape’s statement.

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