North Korea "dismantling rocket to fix technical glitch"

Tue Dec 11, 2012 3:45am EST
 
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By Jack Kim and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (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.   Continued...

 
A rocket sits on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang in this April 8, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files