ABIDJAN, March 28 (Reuters) - Bollore must be paid compensation by the government of Benin if it decides to replace the French industrial group in a rail project linking the West African nation's main port with northern neighbour Niger, a senior company official said.
That segment is a key element of Bollore's larger project to build a 3,000-km (1860-mile) railway from the port of Cotonou to Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan and arching through the arid Sahel region.
However, a years-long legal dispute over the Benin concession with the rival Petrolin Group has hindered development, and speaking in French media last week President Patrice Talon said he would ask Bollore to exit the project.
"We are ready to withdraw the moment we are correctly compensated for the investments we have already made," Philippe Labonne, deputy CEO of Bollore Transport and Logistics, told reporters in Abidjan on Tuesday.
He did not say how much it expected Benin's government to pay, but he noted that as part of the project Bollore had already carried out work on 140 km of railway between Niger's capital Niamey and the Nigerien town of Dosso.
In an interview with the French financial magazine Challenges last week, Talon said Benin had turned to China, which has executed a raft of major railway projects across Africa in recent years, to replace Bollore.
He said Benin had signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese authorities to carry out a feasibility study and the project's cost was initially evaluated at around $4 billion.
Speaking on Radio France Internationale last week, Talon said he had been in contact with both Bollore CEO Vincent Bollore and Geneva-headquartered Petrolin's founder Samuel Dossou-Aworet.
"Mr Bollore understood that for such an investment, we must move toward development aid to raise the type of financing capable of meeting such an ambition," he said. "And they must be compensated in a way that is fair."
Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly Writing by Joe Bavier Editing by Alison Williams