Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for former East German leader Erich Honecker

on charges he personally gave shoot-to-kill orders at the Berlin Wall, justice officials said Saturday.German police traveled to a Soviet military hospital south of Berlin where Honecker is staying to take the former Communist Party chief into custody. An official said the charge is manslaughter.

But Cornel Christoffel, a spokesman for Berlin's justice authorities, later told the ADN news agency that Honecker would not be taken into custody Saturday night.

News of the arrest warrant came on the eve of Sunday's first all-German elections since 1932. Honecker was overthrown in October 1989 by a peaceful revolution that eventually led to German unification Oct. 3.

Honecker was "very composed" when he received the news of the arrest warrant, said one of his lawyers, Wolfgang Ziegler.

Ziegler said a Soviet doctor maintains Honecker is too ill to be jailed, and he did not know when the Soviets would make a decision on whether to turn over Honecker to German authorities.

Christoffel, a spokesman for Berlin's justice department, said the warrant links Honecker, 78, directly to the deaths of several people who tried to escape East Germany during his rule.

He said new documents have been uncovered that show Honecker's signature on an order for border guards to shoot East Germans trying flee across the Berlin Wall and the inner German border.

A Justice Ministry official in Bonn, Ludwig Kirst, confirmed the charge against Honecker is manslaughter. He said the warrant was issued by a Berlin court late Friday and that German and Soviet representatives were trying to arrange the necessary papers for Honecker's release to German authorities.

If convicted of manslaughter, Honecker could face a sentence of five years to life in prison, depending on whether the court considers extenuating circumstances.

Honecker has been living at the Soviet hospital in Beelitz with his wife, Margot.

Honecker also is being investigated for obstruction of justice on allegations his regime harbored West German leftist terrorists.