Colombia marks the first anniversary of the rescue of four children in the Amazon after their plane crashed

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Colombia on Sunday marked the first anniversary of the rescue of four indigenous children who survived a small plane crash in the Amazon rainforest in an operation that captured the world’s attention. A small ceremony was held at a military base in Bogota, including an emotional reunion between soldiers and indigenous volunteers.

But the four children, who were found in a remote patch of rainforest a year ago after fending for themselves for 40 days, still face an uncertain future as authorities wait for a case worker to decide who should get custody.

The siblings of Colombia’s Huitoto tribe were 13, 9, 4 and 11 months old when the single-engine plane they were traveling in nosedived into the rainforest canopy, killing their mother, Magdalena Mucutuy, and the other two adults died on board. The group traveled from the small village of Araracuara, deep in the Colombian Amazon, to the city of San Jose del Guaviare.

On Sunday, Colombia’s Institute for Family Welfare posted a photo of the four children with their faces blurred on its X account, formerly Twitter, and published a statement saying they were healthy and growing up successfully in state care.

“The Mucutuy siblings today spend their days enjoying life and learning. They are accompanied by a team that specializes in ethnic affairs and ensures that they do not lose their customs while far from their territory,” the statement said.

The siblings survived on fruits and seeds from the rainforest before being found on June 9 by a team of special forces and indigenous volunteers. They had been combing the rugged terrain around the plane crash for three weeks, using sniffer dogs and helicopters to locate the children.

However, a custody battle for the children broke out after their rescue, pitting their maternal grandparents against their late mother’s partner, Manuel Ranoque.

Ranoque is the biological father of the two youngest children Tien and Cristin. And he also lived with the two older children and their mother for several years before the crash.

Ranoque was jailed in August last year over allegations that he sexually abused one of the children before the crash.

In October, prosecutors in Colombia formally charged Ranoque with sexually abusing a minor, a charge he denies and says he will challenge in an upcoming trial.

On Sunday, some relatives of the Mucutuy children also joined the soldiers and volunteers who were part of last year’s rescue effort, known as ‘Operation Hope’. They heard a mass, shared a barbecue with the rescue team and spoke briefly to the local press.

“I am sad because I am still not with the children,” Fatima Valencia, the children’s grandmother, told Colombia’s Caracol TV. “But I am very grateful to those who helped us save them.”

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