By Lynne Altenroxel

Threats by British scientists to boycott Durban's international Aids conference are not the first the organisers have received.

Several US organisations and companies have also threatened to boycott the event, citing crime and the involvement of Aids dissidents in the conference as their reasons.

British scientists, according to an article published in the London weekly Independent on Sunday, are planning to boycott the conference as result of the South African government's contact with dissidents who claim Aids is not caused by HIV.

President Thabo Mbeki's telephone calls to dissident David Rasnick, in particular, receive mention, as well as the government's refusal to provide pregnant women with the anti-Aids drug AZT.

The 13th International Aids Conference is scheduled to take place in Durban from July 9 to 14.

Up to 12 000 people are expected to attend.

But according to conference chairperson Professor Hoosen Coovadia, threats to boycott the event have been an "ongoing difficulty" for organisers.

He said boycotting the event would amount to boycotting the scientific community, not the state.

Sandy Kalyan, the Democratic Party's spokesperson on Aids, called on Mbeki to apologise to local scientists "and especially to the 20 percent of the South African population which is living with the HIV/Aids virus".