THE INDONESIAN army's withdrawal from East Timor was meant to be orderly but has turned out to be vicious. Instead of handing off smartly to the peacekeepers and relief agencies, the Indonesian military by itself and with its subordinate militias has prolonged its reign of terror and intimidation against the local population. It is pursuing a scorched-earth policy, putting to fire countless towns and villages. A slight civilian presence is returning tentatively to inhabited places, but large parts of the countryside are reported to remain vulnerable to violence by retreating militias and humiliated Indonesian troops.
An Indonesian force that followed precisely the presumed no-nonsense withdrawal orders given it by Jakarta could have ended its sad and cruel deployment to East Timor with a comforting professional flourish. But things did not work out that way. One result is to leave newly independent East Timor in an even more wretched condition than was already coming. Another is to saddle Indonesia with a bitter, defiant and discredited military establishment that can only be a burden to any Indonesian government that tries now to go down a democratic path.
Already a discussion is underway about how the interested organizations and nations that together form something rather less than an international "community," served East Timor so ineffectively. The answer has many aspects, but one key feature was the common expectation that the Indonesians could be brought into greater respect for the international rules by condemnations and appeals and by the application of economic sanctions, with minimal application of force.
As these expectations were disappointed, as they were through the quarter-century of Timor's ordeal, the organizations and governments concerned were slow to acknowledge that they had supported a policy based more on illusion and hope than on realistic judgment. But that is the fact of the matter. The very least that can be done, for East Timor and for other East Timors to come, is to keep those economic sanctions on until Jakarta has shown it accepts responsibility for its grievous and continuing offenses.