PYONGYANG) - JO MYONG-ROK, one of North Korea's most powerful leaders, has died aged 82, state media reported on Sunday.

Jo, who had been near the centre of power in the reclusive Communist state for three decades, died of 'an inveterate heart disease' on Saturday, the official KCNA news agency said.

He was first vice-chairman of the militaristic state's all-powerful National Defence Commission and had led an official delegation to the United States in 2000. Jo was born into a poor peasant's family in North Hamgyong Province, which borders China, KCNA said.

It described him as 'a revolutionary comrade loyal to leader Kim Jong-Il and a prominent activist of the (Workers' Party), the state and the army of the DPRK (North Korea) who devoted his whole life to the sacred struggle for the freedom and independence of the country and the victory of the cause of socialism'. Jo was elected to North Korea's supreme body, the presidium of the politburo, in September when the Workers' Party held its highest-level gathering for 30 years to elect a new leadership.

The meeting also appointed leader Mr Kim's youngest son Kim Jong-Un as one of two vice-chairmen of the country's powerful central military commission and a member of its core institution, the central committee.

Kim Jong-Il, who took over from his own father and national founder Kim Il-Sung, suffered a stroke in 2008 and is also thought to have kidney problems. The Kim dynasty has ruled with an iron fist since the country was founded in 1948.

Powerful NKorean leader dies