Former East German leader Erich Honecker will probably never be returned to Germany to stand trial on manslaughter charges, Germany's justice minister said Friday.

The Soviet military whisked the Communist leader to Moscow on March 13 on humanitarian grounds, saying he needed special medical treatment. He reportedly suffers from cancer.Honecker, 78, is wanted by German officials for allegedly issuing orders allowing border guards to kill people trying to flee former East Germany to West Germany.

The Berlin-based ADN news agency on Friday quoted Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel as saying he was "realistic enough to see that no chance exists" to force Honecker to return for a trial.

Honecker served as East Germany's hard-line Communist leader from 1971 until he was ousted in the autumn of 1989.

Although he acknowledged Hon-ecker would "probably not stand trial," Kinkel said the Soviet action to spirit away the former leader "was and remains illegal."