Dancing in Shadows by Benny Widyono Rowman & Littlefield, HK$233.5 After two decades of war and genocide in Cambodia, the United Nations initiated its most ambitious peacekeeping mission in 1991 in a bid to end the conflict, organise elections and transform a one-party quasi-communist state into a liberal democracy. The author was parachuted from his plush UN office in New York to operations in Siem Reap, far from basic comforts and convenience. His 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 flawed mandate passed on by the PP5 - the five members of the UN Security Council - could have resulted in his untimely death. In May 1993 an increasingly belligerent Khmer Rouge attacked and briefly occupied the town of Siem Reap in a defiant attempt to frighten voters and disrupt elections. Although the Pol Pot faction had signed the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 together with the two non-communist factions and the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, they doggedly refused to permit UN access to their guerilla zones and continually obstructed the peace process. UN battalions were helpless in the face of Khmer Rouge attacks. As Widyono points out, the UN Transitional Authority of Cambodia (Untac) had to appeal to the forces of Hun Sen's government, not officially recognised by the UN, to come and chase the Khmer Rouge soldiers out of town. Amazingly the treaty made no provision for how to deal with any faction that violated its accords, much less any contingency plan to protect Cambodian civilians from the genocidal Pol Pot. Ordinary Cambodians had assumed that UN forces had come to Cambodia to protect them. But UN senior officials pointed out to this reviewer 'it was not part of our mandate'. They even had difficulties protecting themselves. This insider's account provides fresh insights into another major controversy. How far was Untac supposed to take over from the incumbent government led by Hun Sen? The book clarifies the complexities, illusions and realities of power in Cambodia. The arrangement was extremely complex, with authority vested in Untac and King Norodom Sihanouk, then the president of the Supreme National Council. But neither body was equipped or prepared to run the country during the period of preparation for free and fair elections. Widyono soon grasped that only the incumbent government, which had presided over the rebirth of Cambodia since the Pol Pot nightmare, had the capacity to do this. Guerilla factions and some western governments never wanted to accept that reality. Untac also had its successes. A mass refugee repatriation emptied all the camps in Thailand and brought Cambodians home in time for voting day. Numerous NGOs were set up and the seeds of pluralism and a free press were successfully cultivated. The first democratic election in Cambodian history took place thanks to the bravery and dedication of hundreds of UN volunteers. That the UN did not achieve more in the way of delivering peace and justice was primarily owing to the drafting of the mandate. In his capacity as the UN Secretary-General's special representative, Widyono returned to Cambodia some years after the end of Untac's mission. The book ends in 1997 with Hun Sen emerging triumphant from a showdown with Royalist armed forces in a tank battle in Phnom Penh. The UN had been forced to dance to many different tunes. Dancing in the shadows of the killing fields, Untac was mandated to promote respect for human rights, yet paradoxically it was not allowed to investigate the Khmer Rouge regime of mass murder. Respecting Pol Pot as part of an inclusive peace process was a tune dictated by the US, Britain, France and China in the Security Council, with reservations from Russia only. The UN military commander, General John Sanderson, berated journalists one night for highlighting the genocidal record of the Khmer Rouge, instead of focusing on Untac's drive for reconciliation among the four factions. But unlike the Australian general, the author concludes that including the Khmer Rouge in the peace agreement was a huge blunder. He argues that they should have been put on trial like those who committed atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and not coddled by the UN. Now, so many years later, the UN is finally backing a Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh. It's better late than never.