UPDATE 2-Orange official calls Ivory Coast telecoms fire act of 'sabotage'

ABIDJAN, May 15 (Reuters) - A fire and other damage last month at a facility of French telecoms group Orange in Ivory Coast appears to have been an act of professional “sabotage”, a top company official said late on Tuesday.

The fire broke out early on April 30 at a technical centre in the commercial capital Abidjan’s central Plateau district, disrupting service for weeks at the site of a submarine network cable that digitally connects the country with the rest of the world.

Initial findings suggest that the incident was a targeted assault, said Mamadou Bamba, general director of Orange Cote d’Ivoire. A ladder was found at the scene and a key cable was cut, he said, suggesting the attackers had some specialized knowledge.

“We have been victims of sabotage. This sabotage was perpetrated against our facilities”, said Bamba. “We have lodged a complaint with the public prosecutor and their service is at work to determine those responsible for this incident”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ivory Coast’s Communications Minister Bruno Kone said the fire was likely the result of a criminal act.

Mobile phone networks, internet access and landlines were knocked out across much of Ivory Coast, which is French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy and a regional banking and business hub.

Orange launched emergency repair work immediately after the incident occurred, but some network disruptions persist over two weeks later.

Full service should be restored by May 20, Bamba said, adding that a 100 billion CFA franc ($176.37 million) program to upgrade its networks should be completed by the end of July.

The French company is Ivory Coast’s mobile telecommunications industry leader with more than 13 million subscribers. It also holds a majority stake in the country’s national telephone company.

Its competitors in the wireless sector include South Africa’s MTN and Maroc Telecom-owned Moov. ($1 = 566.9900 CFA francs) (Reporting by Joe Bavier and Loucoumane Coulibaly; writing by Edward McAllister; editing by Jason Neely and G Crosse)