Junior foreign minister Mark Malloch-Brown added that talks with Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Foreign Minister Simbarashi Mumbengegwi in Pretoria had been "open and productive" and pledged to maintain a close dialogue with the fledgling government in Harare.

"My exchanges with both ministers were open and productive," Malloch-Brown said in a statement after the meeting on the fringe of the inauguration of South African President Jacob Zuma, the first such talks between a British government minister and Tsvangirai since the latter became prime minister.

"I welcomed areas of progress made by the inclusive government to date and assured both Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Mumbengegwi of the UK’s continued willingness to help the Zimbabwean people to rebuild their country. However I also underlined the need for further reform."

Malloch-Brown said areas of concern for Britain were the continued detention of political prisoners in Zimbabwe, the continued invasion of commercial farms and the unilateral appointment of officials.

"Progress is needed in these and other areas before the UK and the international community as a whole can engage more fully. In the meantime the UK remains fully committed to helping Zimbabwe with its most pressing humanitarian and essential needs.

"Prime Minister Tsvangirai, Minister Mumbengegwi and I agreed that our respective governments would continue to maintain a close dialogue as Zimbabwe works through this challenging transitional period." – AFP