SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Erich Honecker is 81 years old, living in exile and seriously ill. But he's still ''as firm as ever in his Communist beliefs,'' an associate says.

The former East German ruler, who turns 81 years old Wednesday, follows his country's affairs closely and ''suffers deeply'' because of war in the former Yugoslavia, said Juan Carlos Arriagada, a Chilean who sees him frequently.

Honecker's health remains bad, but the liver cancer that won him freedom from a Berlin prison in January ''has not changed significantly in recent months,'' Arriagada said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

Arriagada denied reports that Honecker's condition had worsened and said he has not been to the hospital for two months, although doctors regularly visit him at home.

The private Clinica Las Condes, where Honecker has been treated since his arrival, refused to comment on his health.

Graciela Alvarez, a Chilean lawyer who heads the Committee for Solidarity with Erich Honecker, said last month that Honecker had received several blood transfusions in June and July, and that he was living in sad solitude with his wife, Margot.

Arriagada, also a committee member, said Honecker remains ''very active, closely following the fate of his comrades in Germany'' through German newspapers and television reports he receives.

He said that Honecker has learned ''a few words in Spanish,'' but denied previous reports that Honecker actively studies the language.

Arriagada, who met Honecker several times last week, said the former leader has repeatedly expressed ''his sorrow about the current situation in Germany and the war'' in the former Yugoslavia.

''These events, the unemployment and the suffering of many Germans, have made him more convinced than ever of his Communist beliefs,'' Arriagada said.

Arriagada said that although Honecker is not writing his ''formal memoirs,'' he is determined to leave some kind of written legacy.

Honecker lives with his wife in a closed compound at La Reina, a middle- class southern Santiago neighborhood. Their daughter, Sonya, who is married to a Chilean, lives nearby.

Several Chileans also visit him, including leaders of the Communist Party.

Honecker flew to Chile on Jan. 13 after a court freed him from a Berlin manslaughter trial in the deaths of East Germans fleeing to the west. At the time, doctors gave him six months to live.

During his first few months here, Honecker was often seen strolling through the gardens in the condominium, but recently his strolls have become rare. Arriagada said that is due to his health and the cold weather of the current southern hemisphere winter.

He said no special celebrations are planned for Honecker's birthday.