KHARTOUM, May 18 (Reuters) - At least 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in clashes which erupted when Sudanese police tried to relocate refugees mainly from southern Sudan away from a camp near Khartoum on Wednesday, officials said.
Khartoum's police chief Tareq Osman Al-Tahir said 14 police officers were killed and 13 injured in Soba Aradi, about 30 km (19 miles) south of Khartoum. He said most of the victims died as crowds massed around the police station and burned it down.
"There were 14 police killed, and 13 injured," he told Reuters. "Of the civilians there were 3 (killed) and 11 injured," he said, adding that none of them were hit by bullets. "The police did not open fire on the civilians even though they were defending themselves."
But witnesses said up to eight civilians had been killed.
"The troops, army and police, came in this morning and they shot at the civilians," said Majak Machar, a camp resident.
"They wanted to take the people to another area and the people fought them because they didn't want to go."
Slums and camps surrounding the sprawling capital are home to more than 2 million people, mostly southerners displaced by two decades of civil war.
Machar, who was about 500 metres (600 yards) from the fighting, said police had killed seven or eight civilians and wounded dozens with live fire. They were also firing tear gas.
"The civilians then attacked the police and have killed at least two of them," he said. "They beat them with sticks."
Another local community leader, Father Darwing, said only the police had been involved, not the army. He said there had been unconfirmed reports of many more civilians dead, but he could not say how many.
"The people said we will not go, we will die here in Soba Aradi," Darwing said. "They have been living there for 14 years," he said.
Witnesses said the displaced people had seized guns from the police and returned fire, which government officials denied.
Khartoum hospital was surrounded by police and officers. Journalists were not allow to enter wards where camp victims were being treated.
POLITICAL PARTY TO BLAME
Khartoum governor Abdel Halim al-Mutafi accused an un-named political group of inciting violence after he had ordered police to stop a previously planned attempt to relocate a small part of the camp's population.
"They had withdrawn by 9 a.m. (0600 GMT)," he told reporters. "But a large political party interfered and told them (refugees) that all of them would be moved," he added. Then the problems began, he said. But he said the first victim was from the security forces not a civilian.
He declined to name the party but said it had an interest in derailing a January peace deal between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) to end more than 2 decades of civil war in the south.
A U.N. spokeswoman said hundreds had fled the area.
The slum areas around Khartoum have little or no running water or electricity and aid agencies have found it difficult to improve the situation there.
Khartoum authorities say they want to demolish the slums to relocate residents to permanent, planned housing plots.
But the United Nations criticises the policy, saying the authorities had failed to consult the people being moved, and that refugees were being moved to desert areas far from the capital and where there are no services.
The governor of Khartoum insists the relocations are done with the consent of the people and their leaders.