The two factions of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change have formally announced the end of South African-mediated talks with President Robert Mugabe. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that while the negotiations were ongoing last year and even during the final stages, the MDC was barred from talking to the media.

The secretaries-general of the MDC, Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube, said the talks mandated by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) last March have failed. Biti and Ncube were the opposition negotiators at the talks with the ruling ZANU-PF.

Their comments are in direct contrast to a statement issued by SADC in January and later reiterated by South African President, Thabo Mbeki. He declared that the dialogue he initiated between the two parties was a work in progress and that the timing for implementation of an agreed new constitution was all that was outstanding.

This is the first public comment by the opposition negotiators. At the start of the talks, Mr. Mbeki insisted that the talks take place in secret and that the goal of the negotiations was undisputed elections.

The MDC officials produced a copy of the memorandum that they sent to South African president Thabo Mbeki last December following a deadlock.

The two MDC factions had from the start of the talks demanded a new constitution, saying that free and fair elections would not be possible without it. They revealed this was agreed to last June and that work on it was completed three months later.

In their December memorandum, the two negotiators reminded the South African leader that the ZANU-PF negotiators and Mr. Mugabe had pledged that they would not renege on the deal that the new constitution would be in place before the polls.

However, it all failed in early December when the two parties sat down to write the final political accord and ZANU-PF negotiators would not agree that the constitution would be in place before the polls.

The MDC then declared a deadlock which President Mbeki failed to unblock during a long meeting with Mr. Mugabe on January 16. Negotiator Ncube explained that when Mr. Mugabe signed a proclamation declaring elections would take place on March 29, the reason for the negotiations fell away.

Now the two parties have nominated their candidates and the election campaigns have begun.

So far, the few reforms to existing security, electoral and media laws which were agreed during last year's difficult negotiations are already being flouted.

Political analysts and independent observers say that some political meetings are being banned by the police, activists are being beaten up, and the state media continues to break the law every day in its bias.