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

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Overview

This fascinating book recounts the remarkable tale of a career UN official from Indonesia caught in the turmoil of international and domestic politics swirling around Cambodia during the tumultuous period after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Writing from his experience first as a member of the UN transitional authority and then as a personal envoy to the UN secretary-general, Benny Widyono re-creates the fierce battles for power centering on King Norodom Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and Prime Minister Hun Sen. A simultaneous insider and outsider, he also untangles the competing and conflicting agendas of the key international players, especially the United States, China, and Vietnam. He argues that great-power geopolitics throughout the Cold War and post–Cold War eras triggered and sustained a tragedy of enormous proportions in Cambodia for decades, ultimately leading to a flawed peace process.

Widyono tells the inside story of the massive UN operation in Cambodia, the largest and most challenging in the organization's history to that time and long considered a model for UN operations elsewhere. He draws not only on his vantage point as part of the UN bureaucracy, but also as a local UN official in the rural Cambodian province of Siem Reap, the site of Angkor Wat. As a fellow Southeast Asian with no geopolitical axe to grind, Widyono was able to win the respect of Cambodians, including the once and future king, Norodom Sihanouk, whose decline after fifty years as his country's leading figure is vividly portrayed. Putting a human face on international operations, this book will be invaluable reading for anyone interested in Southeast Asia, the role of international peacekeeping, and the international response to genocide.

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Editorial Reviews

Pacific Affairs
But the story is his own. . . . The book, therefore, 'sounds like Benny,' which is what gives it its bite and originality. . . . He provides here an astute analysis of the actions leading to the brief upheaval that brought about the break-up of the coalition in July 1997. . . . An engrossing read.
Contemporary Southeast Asia
Widyono's book . . . is a vivid autobiographical narrative. . . . Represents valuable contributions to the body of knowledge on post-conflict Cambodia. Both Widyono's and Peou's books dovetail on the general period of governing Cambodia during and after UNTAC, and are important contributions for any scholar interested in the country, peacebuilding, democratization and its discontents. Engrossing. . . . An honest and valuable rendition of five years in Cambodia at a time of maximum democratic hope for the country.
Explorations
Gripping. . . . [A] political memoir written in engaging prose, Dancing in Shadows offers an insider’s view into a critical moment in Cambodia’s recent tumultuous history. As such, it is an invaluable resource for all interested observers and students of Cambodia, undergraduate and graduate alike.
The Huffington Post
Riveting. . . . I could not put it down. It is well written, engaging, and highly informative. I now understand so much more of Cambodia's Cold-War history and how it led to the Killing Fields in which about two million Cambodians perished. . . . Above and beyond being a thought leader and global citizen, Benny has been able to share his gripping life in an exceptional book. I highly recommend it.
— Jim Luce
Canadian Journal Of History
Benny Widyono's memoirs from his five years working for the UN in Cambodia provide interesting insight into both the events and personalities at play….his take on events is refreshing….In this eminently readable account, Benny Widyono has done an admirable job of encapsulating his experiences in Cambodia, to the benefit of those who will pick up this book.
South Asia Research
An engaging read.
Far Eastern Economic Review
Scholars can glean many interesting details of the failings of UNTAC from Mr. Widyono’s account.
Tony Kevin
Benny Widyono is ideally placed to assess the turbulent events in Cambodia between the UN-sponsored Paris Peace Accords of 1992 and the return to full electoral legitimacy of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party-led government in 1998. During most of those years, as personal representative of the UN secretary-general, Widyono was at the center of Cambodia’s Machiavellian political scene.
Ali Alatas
Benny Widyono brings us the remarkable inside story of the UNTAC operations in Cambodia after the conclusion of the Paris Peace Agreements, as well as the intrigues, turmoil, and political upheavals of the first years of a reborn Cambodia. This book will be fascinating reading for anyone interested in the often tragic history of Cambodia and the history of big-power intervention in Southeast Asia.
Barbara Crossette
Benny Widyono has written a lively, sometimes passionate and controversial book from the perspective of a fellow Southeast Asian who was also a senior UN official through Cambodia's crucial post–Cold War years. His account is rich in detail, from scenes of his own life and work in the devastated country to his insider's analyses of its troubled politics.
Phnom Penh Post - David Chandler
This absorbing memoir [offers] an insightful record of a tumultuous period of Cambodian history in which Widyono was an astute participant-observer. . . . His assessments of personalities and events in this period are often shrewd and persuasive, and buttressed by observations made in the course of later visits to the country. . . . Widyono's writing is brisk, perceptive and accessible. . . . A valuable addition to literature about Cambodia's recent past.
The Huffington Post - Jim Luce
Riveting. . . . I could not put it down. It is well written, engaging, and highly informative. I now understand so much more of Cambodia's Cold-War history and how it led to the Killing Fields in which about two million Cambodians perished. . . . Above and beyond being a thought leader and global citizen, Benny has been able to share his gripping life in an exceptional book. I highly recommend it.
Canadian Journal of History
Benny Widyono's memoirs from his five years working for the UN in Cambodia provide interesting insight into both the events and personalities at play. . . . His take on events is refreshing. . . . In this eminently readable account, Benny Widyono has done an admirable job of encapsulating his experiences in Cambodia, to the benefit of those who will pick up this book.
Cambridge University Press
Dancing in Shadows is a key text for anyone interested in understanding Cambodian politics and would also be useful to anyone with an interest in traditional democracies, UN peacekeeping efforts or elections in post-conflict nations.
South China Morning Post
[The author's] fascinating account reveals how he coped with potholed roads, an erratic power supply, political headaches and a deeply flawed UN mandate with considerable humour and rare commitment. . . . The book clarifies the complexities, illusions and realities of power in Cambodia.
Bangkok Post Outlook
Benny Widyono has now performed the invaluable task of setting the record straight by counting the failures as well.
Asian Affairs
These memoirs of a senior UN official recording his years in Cambodia from 1992 to 1997 are not only informative and well researched, but also keenly perceptive and engaging. . . . Benny Widyono's insider account is essential reading for those interested in what really happened in Cambodia during his five turbulent years in that rapidly developing country.
Caai News Media
The appearance of a memoir by Indonesian-born U.N. diplomat Benny Widyono is welcome.
CHOICE
This is an important retelling of less-well-known parts of Cambodia's modern history. It is written by an international civil servant who spent five years (1992–97) in the country. . . . The author gives fresh and interesting profiles of leaders, and his account enriches knowledge and understanding of how they sought to achieve success and often failed. Recommended.
January 2007 South China Morning Post
[The author's] fascinating account reveals how he coped with potholed roads, an erratic power supply, political headaches and a deeply flawed UN mandate with considerable humour and rare committment. . . . The book clarifies the complexities, illusions and realities of power in Cambodia.
Outlook
Benny Widyono has now performed the invaluable task of setting the record straight by counting the failures as well.
November 2008 Asian Affairs
These memoirs of a senior UN official recording his years in Cambodia from 1992 to 1997 are not only informative and well researched, but also keenly perceptive and engaging. . . . Benny Widyono's insider account is essential reading for those interested in what really happened in Cambodia during his five turbulent years in that rapidly developing country.
December 2008 Caai News Media
The appearance of a memoir by Indonesian-born U.N. diplomat Benny Widyono is welcome.
February 2009 CHOICE
This is an important retelling of less-well-known parts of Cambodia's modern history. It is written by an international civil servant who spent five years (1992–97) in the country. . . . The author gives fresh and interesting profiles of leaders, and his account enriches knowledge and understanding of how they sought to achieve success and often failed. Recommended.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780742555532
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/23/2007
  • Series: Asian Voices Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 356
  • Sales rank: 1,307,750
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Benny Widyono, born in Indonesia to ethnic Chinese parents, was a career UN diplomat. He was a peacekeeper with UNTAC from 1992 to 1993 and representative of the UN secretary-general in Cambodia from 1994 to 1997. He holds a Ph.D. in economics and wrote this book while a visiting scholar at the Kahin Center on Advanced Research on Southeast Asia at Cornell University.
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Table of Contents

Part I: The View from the Field, 1992–1993
Chapter 1: When the World "Invaded" Cambodia
Chapter 2: A Glimpse into the Past
Chapter 3: The Intricate Dance of Governance
Chapter 4: We Stared at Each Other and I Blinked
Chapter 5: The Khmer Rouge Derail Demobilization
Chapter 6: The Rocky Road to Elections
Chapter 7: A Vote for Peace?
Part II: A UN Envoy in Phnom Penh, 1994–1997
Chapter 8: Not Enough Actors for the Play
Chapter 9: King Reigns but Does Not Rule
Chapter 10: A Mysterious Coup Attempt
Chapter 11: Is There an Asian Model for Development?
Chapter 12: A Puppet Prime Minister?
Chapter 13: Toward a Climax
Chapter 14: The Final Showdown
Epilogue
Chronology
Appendix 1: Deployment of UNTAC
Appendix 2: The Royal Government of Cambodia, November 1993
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