The North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Kim Kyok Sik, 77, died of an acute respiratory failure.
South Korea says Kim directed North Korea’s torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March 2010 and its artillery strikes on a South Korean border island in November that year. The reclusive communist state has denied carrying out the ship attacks.
The attacks increased animosity between the Koreas, which have been divided along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korean economic sanctions and other punitive measures imposed after the North’s alleged torpedo attack remain in place and still serve as a source of tension between the rivals.
After the South Korean warship sinking, Kim, a four-star army general, served as the North’s armed forces minister, the equivalent of South Korea’s defence chief, and chairman of the military’s general staff.
His last official job was as a member of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party and a delegate to the country’s rubber-stamp legislature.
The North Korean newspaper said Kim’s death was “pitiful” to the country, saying he was awarded a raft of state decorations for his unspecified work and achievements for North Korea and its people. The newspaper did not mention the 2010 attacks.
Born the son of a tenant farming family when the Korean Peninsula was under Japan’s colonial occupation from 1910-1945, Kim lived in poverty before dedicating his life to the military after the peninsula was liberated at the end of the Second World War, according to the newspaper.
Lim Byeong Cheol, a spokesman at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, declined to comment on Kim’s death.