Dancing in the Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia

By Zucker, Eve | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Dancing in the Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia


Zucker, Eve, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


Dancing in the shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia

By BENNY WIDYONO, with a foreword by BEN KIERNAN

Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Pp. 323. Maps, Plates, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Dancing in the shadows is the engaging personal memoir of Indonesian-born Benny Widyono's experience as a United Nations (UN) peacekeeper and later, envoy to the UN Secretary-General during Cambodia's turbulent transition to democracy between 1992 and 1997. The book is presented in two parts: the first describes the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) years when Widyono was the Governor of Siem Reap Province; the second records his observations and experiences as the UN Secretary-General's Political Representative to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The foreword, written by Ben Kiernan, provides a background to Indonesia's relationship with Cambodia in the post-conflict years, thereby situating Widyono's relationship to Cambodia as an Indonesian national.

In the first half of the text, Widyono describes his experiences and observations as the UNTAC Governor of Siem Reap province from 1992-93. This was a critical period marked by the United Nation's efforts to implement the policies and goals of the Paris Peace Accords of 1991. The goals included achieving stability through disarmament of various Cambodian political factions, administering free and fair democratic elections, repatriating refugees, promoting and upholding human rights, aiding in the rebuilding of infrastructure and other related tasks. Widyono describes the colourful array of personalities of the UN peacekeepers, several of whom he became well acquainted with. It was also the early days of his relationship with Sihanouk, which would continue after his UNTAC years. One of his most fascinating accounts is when he accompanied Sihanouk and Queen Monique to the Khmer Rouge stronghold in Pailin. This bizarre trip provides interesting insight into Sihanouk's complex relationship with the Khmer Rouge and as well as a glimpse of the ousted Khmer Rouge themselves. This visit to Pailin is juxtaposed against another trip with Sihanouk, this time to visit a FUNCINPEC base. The differing receptions illustrate Sihanouk's multifaceted relationships with the various political parties--a theme that Widyono elaborates on in the second half of the text.

Widyono's evaluation of the political circumstances and the UN mission shed light on the impacts of UNTAC. In his view, the mission was flawed on a number of counts, ranging from operational shortcomings to problems inherent in the UNTAC mandate itself. Operationally, a lack of international peacekeepers fluent in Khmer and the slow deployment of UN personnel hampered the launching of the mission itself. But as Widyono points out, there were problems stemming from the Paris Peace Accord agreements themselves. …

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