UN's Ban urges N Korea to refrain from 'further provocation'

THE HAGUE - UN chief Ban Ki-moon made an urgent appeal to North Korea on Monday to refrain from "any further provocation", following reports that the increasingly isolated state is preparing a fresh missile test launch.

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea cannot go on like this, confronting and challenging the authority of the (UN) Security Council and the international community," Ban said in The Hague.

"I am urging them to refrain from taking any further provocative measures."

"This is an urgent and honest appeal from the international community including myself," Ban told a press conference alongside Netherlands Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans in The Hague, where the UN chief is to attend the third review of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

South Korea said earlier that North Korea appeared to be preparing a fourth nuclear test as well as a provocative missile launch, but later clarified that it had seen no fresh signs of preparations for a fresh nuclear test.

"There are activities" at the North's Punggye-ri test site, but they "appear to be usual routine activities", Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.

The Unification Ministry said another test did not appear to be "imminent".

It was the North's third nuclear test in February and subsequent UN sanctions that kickstarted a cycle of escalating military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

While North Korea has made no secret of the fact that it intends to carry out further nuclear tests, most analysts believe a detonation in the current climate would be a provocative step too far, even for Pyongyang.

Intelligence reports suggest Pyongyang has readied two mid-range missiles on mobile launchers on its east coast, and is aiming at a test-firing before the April 15 birthday of late founding leader Kim Il-Sung.

"I have repeatedly expressed my great concern around the continued inflammatory rhetoric coming from Pyongyang, which has gone too far already," Ban said.

"I have warned the DPRK authorities that making any threat to nuclear weapons is not a game. The Security Council... sent an unequivocal message that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons."

"It is time for all the parties concerned to help reduce the tension," Ban said.

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