Papua New Guinea Leader Criticizes Joe Biden’s Reference to Cannibals as an Unfair ‘Punchline’

President Joe Biden is known for occasionally saying things he shouldn’t, but his latest slip of the tongue has left a sour taste 9,000 miles away. During a visit last week to a war memorial in Pennsylvania, the President recounted the story of his aviator uncle, Ambrose Finnegan, who died during World War II in a plane crash when Biden was one year old.

“He got shot down in New Guinea, and they never found the body because there used to be a lot of cannibals, for real, in that part of New Guinea,” Biden said, adding that U.S. authorities managed to recover parts of the plane.

The details of Biden’s retelling weren’t exactly right—U.S. defense records state that Finnegan and two others went missing after their plane “for unknown reasons” was “forced to ditch in the ocean” and that “no trace” of the aircraft was found, while the White House clarified that the crash occurred over the Pacific “near” New Guinea but not in it—but Biden’s seemingly offhand suggestion that his uncle was eaten has sparked the sharpest blowback, particularly from Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape.

“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 on Sunday.

Cannibalism is known to have occurred in Papua New Guinea and the surrounding region, but stereotypes about it applied to the Pacific nation have been a sore spot for years, and Biden isn’t the only Western leader to reference it. Former British Prime Minister (then an MP) Boris Johnson made a similar faux pas in 2006, sparking a diplomatic row after he compared local political parties’ infighting as “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.”

Marape, in his response to Biden’s blunder, is using the opportunity to call for more attention to how Papua New Guinea and its neighbors continue to bear the brunt of lingering effects of World War II, pointing specifically to explosives that were planted during the war and that are still causing injuries today as well as bombs still detonating across the country.

“Our people daily live with the fear of being killed by detonated bombs of WWII,” Marape said, adding that Papua New Guineans were “needlessly dragged into a conflict that was not their doing.”

“The remains of WWII lie scattered all over PNG, including the plane that carried President Biden’s uncle,” Marape said. “I urge President Biden to get the White House to look into cleaning up these remains of WWII so the truth about missing servicemen like Ambrose Finnegan can be put to rest.”