By VERNON SMALL and NZPA



The Army has sold most of its trouble-prone fleet of Scorpion light tanks to a British arms dealing company for about $420,000.



But sale restrictions should stop them falling into the wrong hands.



The Scorpions and the Army's ageing M113 armoured personnel carriers are to be replaced by 105 new Canadian-built LAVIII light-armoured vehicles at a cost of $624 million.

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The assistant chief of general staff in charge of logistics, Colonel Jeff Bright, confirmed that the Government had approved the sale of 21 Scorpions and two warehouses full of spares to arms dealer Helston Gunsmiths.



Three Scorpions were being kept for the Army Museum, and two would be used as training targets.



Helston Gunsmiths is based in Helston, in Cornwall, England, and advertises itself as a military and police supplier.



Its website says it sells and refurbishes specialist vehicles, including armoured personnel carriers and light tanks.



It also supplies ammunition, light weaponry, heavy machine-guns and towed artillery, and offers training services.



Britain's police are among its clients.



Its price lists are available only to bona fide dealers and buyers, but it claims to hold stocks of mortars, howitzers, rocket and grenade launchers and small arms.



A New Zealand Defence spokesman said the Scorpion sale was subject to strict safeguards to ensure the vehicles were not sold to anyone considered unsuitable.



The British Government, which sold them to New Zealand, insists on an "end-use certificate."



This requires New Zealand to tell Britain who is buying the tanks.



That is then subject to British approval, which had been given for the Scorpion deal.



Helston Gunsmiths would also be subject to restraints on any on-sale, the spokesman said.



The trouble-plagued Scorpions were withdrawn from service seven years ago, and were put up for sale in 1998.



Bought in 1980 for $8 million, the tanks went into service in 1982.



Their steering gear and their Jaguar petrol engines gave frequent problems, and they were never used on active service.



Three soldiers were killed driving them in 1990, 1991 and 1994.



The cabinet announced the purchase of the new armoured personnel carriers last month.



They are expected to be delivered over five years, starting in 2002.





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