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UN: Boko Haram Threatens Regional Peace

FILE - People stand outside burned houses following an attack by Islamic militants in Gambaru, a city in Nigeria's Borno state, May 11, 2014.

The United Nations Security Council says it is deeply concerned that increased attacks by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram are threatening the peace and stability of Central and West Africa.

In a statement Monday, the Council urged countries in the region to step up plans for a regional military force to fight the militants.

The statement strongly condemned Boko Haram's attacks, which in recent months have increased in frequency and spread from an insurgency in Nigeria to neighboring countries, including Cameroon and Niger.

It welcomed a meeting planned for Tuesday in Niger's capital, Niamey, to discuss the regional response to the militants, and it also praised Chad for recently authorizing its military to assist in fighting the insurgents.

The statement was sponsored by Nigeria, which U.N. diplomats say was previously reluctant to have the Council discuss the militant group.

The U.N. Security Council also demanded the immediate release of all those abducted and held captive by Boko Haram, including more than 200 schoolgirls captured in April.

On Sunday, Boko Haram fighters captured dozens of hostages in a raid on Cameroon. Military officials in that country said at least 24 of the hostages have been freed.

Military spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck told reporters that troops rescued the hostages as they chased the militants in far northern Cameroon. Media reports indicate that at least some of the hostages escaped or were intentionally released.

Boko Haram is still holding between 30 and 50 people kidnapped Sunday in a cross-border raid from Nigeria.

Officials say the group burned down about 80 homes and killed several people during its attack on the village of Mabass.

In its more than five years of insurgency, Boko Haram has taken over towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria as part of its effort to impose Islamic law on the region.

The group's rise has become a central issue in Nigeria's presidential election, with many Nigerians feeling President Goodluck Jonathan has not done enough to stop the militants. The president is running for re-election in the poll, scheduled for February 14.