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Nazi tanks offered for sale in Bulgaria

Nazi tanks, half-buried for decades along Bulgaria's south-eastern border as a Cold War defence against a NATO invasion, will be auctioned next week, military officials said on Thursday.

The 97 rusty World War Two relics, which have lain forgotten since communism collapsed in 1989, came into the spotlight in December when police arrested thieves who stole a rare model and reportedly smuggling it into Germany.

The theft prompted a recovery operation to save the remaining machines, some of which will go to the national military history museum, while others will be sold at auction. The first auction is due on March 19.

"There is a huge collector interest," General Boiko Arabadzhiiski, head of logistic unit at the Bulgarian chief of staff told a news conference.

The price of a full-set German tank could reach millions of euros, officials said.

Several year ago, a Russian collector offered to buy a German Panzer IV tank from the museum for 4 million levs ($3.19 million), the museum deputy director Boiko Milenov said.

Hundreds of private collectors and some foreign museums have bought documents to take part in next week's auction, which will offer recovered parts of six German T3 and T4 tanks.

The defence ministry has so far recovered 55 German tanks, some of which will be sold at a second auction in late May.

Bulgaria, which joined NATO in 2004, received over 200 tanks, tank destroyers and heavy assault guns by the Nazis during the World War Two. The Balkan country smelted down some tanks after the war.

But the communist regime that took over in 1944 and was a member of the now dissolved Warsaw Pact, intentionally half-buried 75 along the border with Turkey, which was a member of the rival NATO military alliance.

A second line of defence of some 170 Soviet T-34 tanks was later added in the 1970s.

Looters have badly damaged and stripped bare many of the forgotten tanks. Local media have said the one which was stolen last year was reportedly a present from Adolf Hitler to Bulgaria's former queen, Joanna.

Police arrested two Germans and one Bulgarian army officer for the theft.

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