SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea’s heavily-criticised long range rocket launch looked set for a lengthy delay Tuesday, with reports that the entire rocket had been removed from the launch pad for repair.

According to analysis of the latest satellite imagery, the entire three-stage Unha-3 carrier has been taken down and moved to a nearby assembly facility, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a military source as saying. “It seems that North Korea has pulled down the rocket from the launch pad to fix technical problems,” the source said. Local radio and TV stations carried similar reports.

The S Korean Defence Ministry refused to confirm the reports which, if true, would signal a considerable delay in the launch schedule. N Korea says the rocket is being used to put a satellite into orbit, but the US and its allies insist the launch is a disguised ballistic missile test that violates UN resolutions. NKorea had originally provided a Dece 10-22 window for launching the rocket, but extended that by another week on Monday when a “technical deficiency” was discovered in the first-stage engine. Yonhap’s army source said Pyongyang was still expected to go ahead with a launch after repair works are completed.

The North’s decision to try and launch the rocket in winter has led analysts to suggest a political imperative behind the timing, which may have overruled technical considerations. Kim Jong-Un is believed to be extremely keen that the launch falls around the first anniversary of the death of his father.