Seoul: North Korea on Sunday test-fired a short-range missile off its east coast, its fourth in two days, despite pleas from South Korea and the UN Chief to halt the launches at a time of high tensions.

The guided missile was fired into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) this afternoon, a defence ministry spokesman said without elaborating.

On Saturday the North fired three short-range missiles off its east coast, apparently as part of a military drill. The North's short-range missile launches are not unusual but come at a time of heightened alert on the peninsula, following Pyongyang's February nuclear test which sparked tougher UN sanctions.

Angered by the sanctions and by a joint US-South Korean military exercise, the North for weeks threatened nuclear or conventional attacks on Seoul and Washington. The South and its US ally had earlier been on heightened alert for any test of medium-range Musudan missiles by the North. But a US defence official said early in May the two mid-range missiles had been moved from their launch site.

South Korea's unification ministry, which handles cross-border relations, said the launches pose threats to the region and should be stopped immediately. "We find it deplorable that the North does not stop provocative actions such as the launch of guided missiles yesterday," said unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-Seok, speaking before the latest exercise.

"We call on the North to take responsible actions for our sake and for the sake of the international community." UN Chief Ban Ki-moon, speaking in Moscow, also called for Pyongyang to "refrain from" further missile tests. He said it was time for it to resume talks with the international community and reduce tensions.

The US State Department urged Pyongyang to exercise restraint, without specifically commenting on the launches. It was unclear what type of missiles were fired on Saturday and on Monday.

Seoul military officials said they may be KN-02 surface-to-surface missiles with a range of up to 160 kilometres, or rockets of at least 300mm in calibre fired from a multiple launcher. Cross-border relations have also been soured by the suspension of operations at a jointly-run industrial complex.

Kaesong Industrial Complex, established just north of the border in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, fell victim to the two months of elevated military tensions. The North barred South Korean access to the zone and pulled out its own 53,000 workers early last month. Seoul withdrew the last of its nationals early this month.

(Agencies)

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