Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have began their first talks since the widely condemned and violent elections last month that returned Robert Mugabe to power.
Both sides have been under heavy pressure to enter negotiations since Mr Mugabe's re-election in an uncontested run-off poll on 27 June. Diplomatic sources in Pretoria said the talks had begun in South Africa but did not specify the location.
The MDC, which boycotted the election because of violence that it said killed 103 of its supporters, had until now refused to enter talks. It said negotiations could not resume until the violence ended and Mr Mugabe accepted the result of the presidential election in March, won by the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
A MDC source in Harare said the talks were preliminary and would discuss ending the violence. "Our team is in South Africa, where they will have preliminary talks with Zanu-PF, starting today," said the source. "It means something is happening. So these are not the actual talks, but preliminary discussions on what the talks will focus on.
"This is where we are going to talk about issues of violence and it is from these discussions that the MDC will decide whether to engage in full negotiations if our conditions for an end to political violence are met. We will also have to agree on the agenda for the talks."
The talks are being mediated by South Africa, designated as lead negotiator by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The diplomatic sources said a breakaway faction of the MDC, led by Arthur Mutambara, was also taking part. Zimbabwe's High Court has relaxed bail conditions on the MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti – who faces charges of treason – and returned his passport, allowing him to attend the talks.
Elsewhere, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has backed sanctions against members of the Zimbabwean government, supported by the G8 leaders this week. "I think the fact that it sends a strong message about the disagreement against those things that are really causing a country and its people to suffer makes it appropriate for those actions," she said.