Papua New Guinea Leader Criticizes Biden’s ‘Cannibals’ Comment

Papua New Guinea Leader Criticizes Biden’s ‘Cannibals’ Comment

Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea has hit back at President Biden’s suggestion that his uncle, a U.S. serviceman whose plane went down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of New Guinea during World War II, had been eaten by cannibals there.

“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 to news organizations including The Associated Press and Reuters.

Twice last week, Mr. Biden suggested without evidence that his uncle had been eaten by cannibals.

“He got shot down in New Guinea, and 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 of his uncle during an address on steel and aluminum tariffs in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Papua New Guinea has become an important strategic partner of the United States in the region. Mr. Marape has twice visited the White House. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Mr. Biden’s description of his uncle’s death does not match military records. Ambrose Finnegan, a brother of Mr. Biden’s mother, was a passenger in an aircraft that “for unknown reasons” had to ditch in the Pacific Ocean off the northern coast of New Guinea on May 14, 1944, according to the Pentagon’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Both of the plane’s engines failed at low altitude. There is no indication the aircraft was shot down.

Mr. Finnegan and two other men “failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash,” the Pentagon records state. “One crew member survived and was rescued by a passing barge. An aerial search the next day found no trace of the missing aircraft or the lost crew members.”

Mr. Biden made a similar suggestion that his uncle had been cannibalized when he visited a war memorial bearing Mr. Finnegan’s name in his childhood hometown, Scranton, part of a three-day campaign swing through the key battleground state of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Biden’s comments were made in the context of criticizing Donald J. Trump for remarks the former president is said to have made calling Americans killed in combat “suckers” and “losers.” (Mr. Trump has denied saying that.)

“President Biden is proud of his uncle’s service in uniform, who lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said in a statement, adding that the president highlighted his uncle’s story to make the case for honoring what Mr. Biden has called a sacred obligation “to equip those we send to war and take care of them and their families when they come home.”

Mr. Bates did not address the president’s misstatements about the circumstances of his uncle’s death or the response from Mr. Marape.

In his statement, the prime minister also called on the United States to clean up war matériel and properly handle human remains still in the region from World War II.

“The theaters of war in PNG and Solomon Islands are many, and littered with the remains of WWII including human remains, plane wrecks, ship wrecks, tunnels and bombs,” Mr. Marape said. “Our people daily live with the fear of being killed by detonated bombs of WWII,” he added.

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