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Julian Rademeyer and Zubeida Jaffer
The American government has requested that additional scientists be included on President Thabo Mbeki's controversial Aids advisory panel, informed sources say.
It is believed US President Bill Clinton telephoned Mbeki on Thursday with a request that four of his scientific advisers be allowed to sit on the panel.
Mbeki apparently agreed that two experts be included and two others serve in an advisory capacity.
A senior government source said on Sunday the American embassy had contacted the organisers of the panel and asked that additional panel members be included.
Critics of the advisory panel have argued that the 33-member body of international scientists, which met for the first time in Pretoria at the weekend, is "skewed" and inherently flawed because of the near-even split between "Aids dissidents", who argue that there is no causal link between the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) and Aids, and "orthodox" scientists, who hold the majority view that HIV causes Aids.
Both Health Minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang and Essop Pahad, minister in the office of the president, would not be drawn on the issue at a press conference on Sunday.
Commenting, Pahad said: "Neither the president nor the deputy president discussed this issue of setting up the panel with any government in the world.
"We don't have to."
It was also announced on Sunday that a sub-group consisting of Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, the president of the Medical Research Council, Dr Helen Gayle, director of the national centre of HIV/Aids and TB prevention at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US, Aids dissident professor Peter Duesberg and self-proclaimed Aids "heretic" professor Harvey Bialy would oversee the formulation of experiments which would "hopefully put to rest once and for all" questions about the causes of Aids.
"There is a possible series of experiments that can be done, that ought not to be too costly, that ought not to take a long time, which may deal with the etiology of Aids - what causes Aids," Dr Khotso Mokhele, president of the SA National Research Foundation, said.
He said that the CDC had offered the use of its epidemiological database to assist in resolving the issue.
Mokhele also said that the sub-group would not conduct the experiments themselves, "but they will lead the exercise of the formulation of those experiments to hopefully put to rest once and for all this question of the etiology of Aids".
He described the decision as a "major outcome" of the meeting which was held behind closed doors.
Speaking afterwards, Makgoba said that the orthodox view about Aids had dominated discussions.
During debate the panellists were split into two groups representing the divergent views on the links between HIV and Aids.