BERLIN (AP) _ Two former East German border guards who fled to the West said Friday that communist authorities have ordered frontier patrols not to shoot at escaping civilians.

The shoot-to-kill orders were lifted in April and East German border guards have been told to use their weapons only in self-defense, to prevent desertions, and in cases where would-be escapees used ''heavy equipment'' to break through the heavily fortified border, the two said.

East Germany's Communist party leader Erich Honecker told the Washington Post in June that the orders had been lifted.

Falk Turba, a former border guard who escaped July 12, said that according to his superiors, the killing of would-be escapees caused ''more political damage than if the escape suceeded.''

Former guard Carsten Kuehnast said the new orders were imprecise since they did not specify what was considered to be ''heavy equipment.''

Working Group August 13, an organization that monitors human rights in East Germany, said that since the wall's construction in 1961, 191 East Germans died in escape attempts. According to its latest figures, 218,283 East Germans have succeeded, including 2,614 military personnel.