* North Korea taking down rocket, South Korean media reports
* Move seen as attempt to fix technical problem
* Launch still expected to go ahead
SEOUL, Dec 11 (Reuters) - North Korea has started to
dismantle a controversial long-range rocket on its launch pad in
an apparent move to fix a technical problem but still looks
likely to go ahead with the launch, South Korean news reports
and experts said on Tuesday.
North Korea says the launch is to put a weather satellite in
orbit but critics say it is aimed at nurturing the kind of
technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range
When the first reports emerged that the rocket parts were
being taken down, there was speculation the North might abandon
the launch altogether, but experts said the construction of the
rocket meant that it needed to be removed from its gantry.
"For North Korean rockets, it's the only way to repair them
because they build the rocket stage by stage," said Kwon Se-jin,
a rocket expert at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and
Technology in Daejeon, South Korea.
North Korea said on Monday that the launch window had been
extended by a week due to technical problems.
"So as it had announced, if the North has a problem with the
first-stage control module, it has to replace it and take down
(the rocket) from the top," said Kwon.
The launch has been timed to coincide with the first
anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il after a
failed launch in April. It also comes as Japan and South Korea,
long-time foes of the North, are holding elections.
North Korea is banned from testing missile or nuclear
technology under U.N. sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009
nuclear weapons tests, and the United States, South Korea and
Japan have condemned the current launch.
Even China, the one major diplomatic backer of isolated and
impoverished North Korea, has expressed "deep concern" over the
South Korean media reported on Tuesday that satellite images
showed the rocket was being taken down.
"We have captured indications that a part of the rocket is
being disassembled from the launch pad in Tongchang-ri," Yonhap
news agency quoted a South Korean government source as saying.
The name refers to the North's new test site in its western
region close to the border with China.
"There is no change to the North's will to fire the rocket,"
another source was quoted as saying by Yonhap.
Officials at South Korea's military and its foreign and
defence ministries could not confirm the reports.
North Korea is assiduous in meeting its international
obligations on reporting long-range rocket launches and notified
international maritime and aviation bodies of its plans last
It was impossible to confirm the media reports in what is
one of the most closed and secretive states on Earth.