Zimbabwe's main opposition party is likely to contest elections in March but will delay a formal announcement.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the biggest challenge to President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, began a two-day meeting today.

It had been expected to announce tomorrow that it would take part in the 31 March parliamentary polls. However sources said the party will instead defer its announcement to 11 February.

It is reported that the MDC hopes that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will dispatch a fact-finding team to Zimbabwe to assess the political situation.

Analysts say the March vote will be a test of how far Mugabe's government has implemented SADC's democratic guidelines after charges that his ZANU-PF - in power since 1980 - rigged the last two major elections in 2000 and 2002.

MDC sources earlier said the party was concerned that the 14-nation member SADC had not yet sent a fact-finding mission and did not appear to be applying the promised political pressure on Mugabe's government.