N.Korea replacing rocket stage, likely to launch as planned - report

SEOUL Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:13am IST

Rockets are carried by military vehicles during a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012, in this picture released by the North's KCNA news agency on April 16, 2012. REUTERS/KCNA/Files

Rockets are carried by military vehicles during a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012, in this picture released by the North's KCNA news agency on April 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/KCNA/Files

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SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea is moving a new rocket component to its missile test site to replace a faulty stage that has delayed its planned launch of a long range rocket and is likely to still go ahead with a launch in December, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday.

North Korea's state media announced at the weekend that the launch of the rocket carrying what it called a scientific satellite may have to be delayed without disclosing the reasons.

A trailer carrying a new third stage rocket was seen by satellite on Saturday being moved from a missile plant in Pyongyang to the Tongchang-ri missile launch site, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted a government source as saying.

"From the reading of satellite images, it's definite the North delayed the missile launch because of problems with the third stage rocket," the source was quoted as saying.

"The possibility the North will go ahead with the launch before December 22 as announced is high."

Officials at South Korea's spy agency and military declined to confirm the report, citing their policy of not commenting on intelligence related matters.

It is impossible to verify events inside the secretive North which is one of the world's most closed states that tightly controls news and information about its military and its leadership.

The North is believed to be developing an intercontinental missile with a range of more than 6,700 km which would have the capacity to hit the continental United States, a move that would dramatically increase its diplomatic clout.

North Korea has said it would launch a rocket to put a working satellite into space between December 10 and 22 from its test ground located in the western region near its border with China.

Analysts said the timing was picked to mark the first anniversary of the death of the North's former leader Kim Jong-il, although it also coincides with elections in South Korea and Japan.

The planned launch has been condemned by South Korea, Japan and the United States, all of which call it a disguised test of a long-range missile being developed to carry nuclear arsenal.

An earlier launch in April failed minutes after blast off which the North admitted in a rare admission of a embarrassing failure.

North Korea is banned from carrying out any missile or nuclear related activities by U.N. resolutions imposed in 2006 and 2009 after conducting nuclear and missile tests.

Pyongyang says it has a right to develop a space programme.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park; Editing by Michael Perry)

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