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 another nuclear test.
"The Democratic People`s Republic of North 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 Monday that North Korea appeared to be preparing a fourth nuclear test as well as a provocative missile launch, despite an unusually blunt call from China for restraint.
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.
Japan has ordered its armed forces to shoot down any North Korean missile headed towards its territory, a Defence Ministry spokesman in Tokyo said on Monday.
A missile launch would still be highly provocative, especially given a strong rebuke the North`s sole ally China handed it at the weekend and a US concession to delay its own planned missile test.