UPDATE 1-North Korea "dismantling rocket to fix technical glitch"

* 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

missile.

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

planned launch.

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

week.

It was impossible to confirm the media reports in what is

one of the most closed and secretive states on Earth.

Most Popular in Business