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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations expects the Nigerian military to do more to combat Boko Haram and urged Nigeria and its neighbors Chad, Niger and Cameroon to allow hot pursuit of the militants across borders as this was key to a regional offensive.
Boko Haram is the main security threat facing Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy and top oil producer, and increasingly threatens neighboring states. Nigeria has postponed a Feb. 14 presidential election until March 28 due to security concerns.
Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin agreed on Saturday to create an 8,700-strong force to tackle Boko Haram. Once they have agreed how the force will operate, the African Union plans to seek United Nations Security Council support.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, U.N. Special Representative for West Africa, said on Friday that Nigeria needed "to demonstrate greater resolve than has been the case so far in this fight against a serious enemy, Boko Haram."
"We all expect more from the Nigerian military," he told reporters in New York via video link from Abuja. "They have been contributing to peacekeeping around the world for years and demonstrated robustness, now we want to see that same robustness in the fight against Boko Haram."
He suggested that the presidential elections "might be a little bit of a distraction at this point."
As the countries contributing to the regional force negotiate how the force will operate, Chambas encouraged them to allow the hot pursuit of Boko Haram across borders, describing this as key to making "progress in rooting out Boko Haram."
"This is something that needs to be encouraged," Chambas said. "If you're on the backs of these terrorists and they cross a frontier, you pursue them to whichever hole they want to hide in and you root them out."
Chad has already deployed some 2,500 troops to fight Boko Haram. Chadian troops clashed with Boko Haram fighters in a Nigerian town earlier this month after pursuing them across the border from Cameroon with Nigeria's consent.
Boko Haram fighters have launched attacks in Cameroon and Niger in their campaign to carve out an Islamist emirate and on Friday they targeted a village in Chad, the first known lethal attack in that country by the militants, killing several people.
"These countries cannot sit by idly when these terrorists have free reign in this area," Chambas said.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Phil Berlowitz