(Adds quotes, exploration investment)
TONGON, Ivory Coast, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Randgold Resources will begin paying dividends from its Tongon mine in Ivory Coast in the third quarter of 2015 as it targets gold production of 260,000 ounces for the year, Chief Executive Mark Bristow said on Thursday.
The London-listed company is one of the main gold miners in Ivory Coast, a soft commodities powerhouse that is now seeking to diversify its economy and develop its mining sector. The government forecast total gold production of 17 tonnes in 2014.
Tongon began production in late 2010 and output is set to rise over the next few years.
"Tongon is a profitable mine. Beginning in the third quarter of this year we will be able to pay out dividends to shareholders," Bristow told journalists during a visit to the mine in the northwest of Ivory Coast.
Randgold owns 89 percent of Tongon while the Ivorian government has a 10 percent stake and a local company has a 1 percent share.
The mine missed its 2014 production target of 250,000 ounces by 10 percent, Bristow said.
"We had some technical problems that will be completely sorted out by the end of March," he said, adding that 2016 output was expected to reach 280,000 ounces. "Production will be 300,000 ounces annually from 2017 until the mine's closure."
Tongon consists of two open pit mines which are projected to produce gold for seven years. However, exploration is continuing aimed at adding to current reserves and extending the life of the mine.
Bristow said Randgold had budgeted $6 million to continue exploration work in 2015.
The company and its Ivorian partners currently hold a portfolio of eight exploration permits in Ivory Coast covering an area of 4,500 square kilometres.
Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Clarke, Susan Fenton and David Evans