(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details, background)
SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has retrieved what appears to be part of the engine from North Korea's long-range rocket launched earlier this month, a finding that could provide clues to the communist nation's rocket technologies, a military source said Friday.
"We recovered an object believed to be the engine debris of North Korea's long-range rocket last night from the bottom of the sea about 160 kilometers off" the western port city of Gunsan, the source said. "It appears to have been damaged a lot from the shock at the time of the crash."
North Korea successfully launched the Unha-3 rocket on Dec. 12 and put a satellite into orbit, fueling concerns Pyongyang is closer to developing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons as far as the mainland U.S.
Seoul, Washington and other countries condemned the launch as a disguised test of missile technology and a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from any ballistic activity over concerns it could be used for missile development.
The rocket's first stage fell in the Yellow Sea and the second stage near the Philippines.
South Korea's Navy has been scouring the area where the first stage fell to retrieve debris. Besides the latest finding, four more items of debris have been recovered so far, including parts of the rocket's oxidizer container and fuel tank.
"Should the object retrieved this time be confirmed to be engine debris, it will be useful for analyzing North Korea's long-range rocket technologies," a military official said.