South Korean forces had planned live-fire drills, but they were later cancelled [AFP]

Russia's envoy to the United Nations has called for a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss escalating tensions between North and South Korea.

The Security Council is set to hold an emergency session on Sunday following the Russian request.

Vitaly Churkin, Moscow's UN envoy in New York, said: "We are seriously concerned about possible further escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula."

He noted that escalating tensions between North and South Korea "directly affects the national security interests of the Russian Federation".

"We believe that the Security Council must send a restraining signal to the Republic of Korea and DPRK [North Korea] and help launch diplomatic activity with a view to resolving all issues of dispute between the two Korean sides by political and diplomatic means," Chirkin said.

Military manouvers

South Korea had planned for its forces to conduct live-fire drills on December 18-21 off the small island of Yeonpyeong, but the planned manouvers were called off on Saturday, apparently because of bad weather.

The planned drills had been controversial because Yeonpyeong was shelled by North Korea last month.

The North also warned on Friday that it would strike even harder if the drills went ahead and a day later its state media attacked the South's pledge to co-operate with the US and retaliate in the event of another bombardment.

They suggested any such move could trigger a nuclear conflict.

"It is a suicidal move akin to digging one's own grave for the South's conservative forces to gang up with outside elements to try to harm compatriots," the Minju Joson, the official publication of the North's cabinet, said in an editorial.

Call for dialogue

China on Saturday joined the calls for calm with Yang Jiechi, China's foreign minister, calling for North and South Korea to avoid any steps that could stoke tensions.

Yang's comments were made in a phone call with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, the Chinese foreign ministry said on its website.

"The situation on the peninsula remains tense and there's a risk of further deterioration and escalation," Yang told Lavrov, according to the Foreign Ministry's account.

"China resolutely opposes any actions that could inflame tensions and exacerbate the situation, and asks that both sides of the peninsula exercise calm and restraint and open up dialogue and contacts."

China has long stood as North Korea's only major ally and economic backer, and the US and its allies have said Beijing must do more to rein in Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, a flurry of regional diplomacy is under way, with Bill Richardson, the US diplomat and governor of New Mexico, visiting North Korea.

Source: Agencies