Hopes for negotiations between Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change before the end of the year have evaporated, as even preparatory talks failed to take place.

Zanu PF's main negotiator, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has reportedly gone on vacation for the Christmas and New Year holidays. MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube, the opposition's main negotiator, said Tuesday there is, therefore, no possibility of any contact between the two sides this year.

The expectation that Zanu-PF and the opposition may start talking again soon was kindled by South African President Thabo Mbeki. He said during his visit to Harare last week that he was looking forward to some political progress in Zimbabwe later this month.

President Mugabe himself said publicly after the meeting that talks between the two parties were necessary.

The ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition party have had only sporadic contact since formal negotiations between them broke down last year.

For several years, Zimbabwe has been mired in a political and economic crisis. Unemployment exceeds 70 percent, inflation is expected to hit 600 percent early next year, and half of the population depends for food on donations.