The head of the EU's new police training mission in Congo acknowledged on Wednesday that it will take at least a decade to forge a viable and united force from the patchwork of rival militias and local units left after decades of misrule and civil war.
"The problems of Congo are enormous," said Superintendent Adilio Custodio. "There are police officers today who have no training, who have no idea what it's all about."
The EU launched a new police training mission on Sunday, sending 39 experts to help train the Congolese force. The nationwide mission replaces an operation limited to the capital, Kinshasa, which focused on training specialized units to guard local politicians and elections.
Although the mission has only a one-year mandate, Custodio said he expects it will be extended given the scale of the problem and the importance of an effective police force in bringing security to the nation.
"When you talk about the overall formation of the Congolese police ... it won't be before around 10 years," he told a news conference.
The Portuguese officer said there was no clear idea how many Congolese were currently serving as police officers, saying estimates varied from 70,000 to 104,000.
"Each movement had its own police," he said. "There is no coherent organization."
The EU is seeking to determine the exact number as an initial step in its efforts to build a force which should be "viable, professional, multiethnic and integrated," he said.
The EU mission will initially focus on helping the Congolese government develop a new national structure for the police that would cooperate with judicial authorities.
It will also seek to form a detective force, breaking the current ties between criminal investigation and the intelligence service.
Despite the limited size of his mission, and a budget of just 5.5 million euros (US$7.5 million), Custodio said it would be able to make a difference.
"It will depend in a large part on the engagement of the Congolese; we are there to support them," he said.
Violence between rival factions is widespread in the lawless east of the country despite the presence of UN peacekeepers.