BERLIN (AP) _ When Erich Honecker flew to Chile last week, people were told they were watching East Germany's deathly ill Communist boss heading off into the sunset.

Now, if you believe Germany's news media, the 80-year-old Honecker may not be so sick after all and the recently freed criminal defendant has been offered $1.2 million to write a tell-all book.

Hanns-Ekkehard Ploeger, the flamboyant lawyer who represents the family of someone shot to death at the Berlin Wall, blames the German doctors who examined Honecker.

''Because of something still inside the Germans, the doctors had certain respect for a former head of state,'' Ploeger told the n-tv television news channel on Monday.

Honecker was charged with ordering the killings of East Germans trying to flee the country. But his manslaughter trial was halted and he was released from prison because court-appointed doctors said his liver cancer would kill him in less than six months. Honecker flew to Santiago last Wednesday.

''Honecker's illness isn't 'life-threatening,''' the conservative, establishment-oriented Frankurter Allgemeine newspaper said Monday in a front- page headline.

In fact, Chilean doctors have issued inconclusive, preliminary assessments of his case.

Dr. Sergio Vaisman, deputy director of the Las Condes Clinic, where Honecker was hospitalized for a day upon his arrival, said an operation might help him, although it would be ''complicated and risky.''

Vaisman and Dr. Renato Palmo, head of the 10-member medical team that examined Honecker, insisted it is impossible at this point to predict how long he may live.

The Bild newspaper, Germany's largest-circulation daily, said in a headline Monday: ''Honecker's getting 2 million marks.''

Bild said Honecker is considering offers for that amount from publishing houses and has already started writing his ''tell-all memoirs.''

Court spokesman Bruno Rautenberg says ''these reports from Chile don't make much of an impression on me.''

''If he had an operation, then you'd have to halt the trial against him anyway,'' Rautenberg said. ''Then comes the question of when he'd be well enough for the trial against him to be resumed.''

Adding even more confusion is the announcement that Honecker's case hasn't really been closed, contradicting official statements last week.

Chief Judge Hans Boss said legal technicalities required keeping the case open, but they were expected to be worked out.

Prosecutors in Berlin have no intention of seeking Honecker's return.