North Korea has taken down part of a controversial long-range rocket on its launch pad in an apparent move to fix a technical problem, South Korean news reports said on Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear whether scientists were simply trying to fix a problem discovered during preparations or whether they were considering cancelling the operation altogether, Yonhap news agency quoted a government source as saying.
North Korea says the launch is to put a weather satellite in space but critics say the rocket is aimed at nurturing the kind of technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
North Korea is banned from conducting missile and nuclear-related tests under U.N. sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests. A rocket launch in April ended in failure and North Korea had already extended the launch window until Dec 29 from Dec 22 due to "technical problems".
"We have captured indications that a part of the rocket is being disassembled from the launch pad in Tongchang-ri," Yonhap quoted the 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.
The planned launch date window comes close to the first anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il and as elections loom in South Korea and Japan.
The launch has drawn criticism from South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States as well as NATO and the United Nations.
(Reporting by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park; Editing by David Chance and Nick Macfie)