Brazil: Wood gang targeted

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian police launched an operation in six states to dismantle a gang alleged to have illegally cut down and exported to the United States the rare Brazilian rosewood commonly used to make musical instruments.

Some 350 federal officers, backed by state police and government environmental agents, arrested 23 people and were searching for two others, police inspector Tatiana Torres said Thursday by telephone from the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Region Office of Law Enforcement said it carried out a search in central Massachusetts in connection with the investigation but gave no details.

Britain: Rice sees hope

LONDON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she was encouraged by a round of furious Mideast diplomacy to prepare a U.S.-hosted peace conference in the fall despite divisions between Israel and the Palestinians that could derail it.

With tensions running high and time running out to plan the meeting, a senior U.S. official said Rice would return to the region at the end of October or early November after National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley goes there next week to press the two sides to launch formal talks.

Hadley's trip, so close on the heels of Rice's visit this week, is intended to move the two sides closer and underscore U.S. commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state, the official said.

Rice said four days of intense discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials had convinced her they are serious about forging a document that, when endorsed at the conference in late November or December, would start the negotiations.

Indonesia: Fatal boat sinking

JAKARTA — A crowded passenger boat sank in eastern Indonesia, killing 15 people and leaving six others missing, a transport official said Friday.

The wooden vessel, which was carrying 82 crew and passengers, sank late Thursday in Southeast Sulawesi province in the far east of the country, said Harijogi, the director general of sea transportation at the transport ministry.

Iraq: Colonel won't testify

CAMP LIBERTY — A former U.S. commander at the jail that held Saddam Hussein chose not to testify in his own defense Thursday in the first court-martial on charges of aiding the enemy since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Lt. Col. William H. Steele, 52, faces a life sentence if convicted of accusations he allowed high-ranking former regime prisoners to use his cell phone for unmonitored calls. It is not known if Saddam was among them.

United Nations: Interpreter

The United Nations said Thursday action would be taken against the interpreter responsible for an erroneous report that Syria has a nuclear facility and expressed regret at the incident.

Syria denied that one of its representatives told the U.N. General Assembly's disarmament committee on Tuesday that Israel had attacked a Syrian nuclear facility. It said the representative was misquoted, demanded a correction, and insisted that "such facilities do not exist in Syria."

After more than seven hours of investigation Wednesday, U.N. officials agreed the Syrian delegate was misquoted. "There was no use of the word nuclear," U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said.