The US China will return its ambassador to Washington after a two-month absence, Beijing said Monday. The move, along with Beijing's announcement that it will send a top military officer back to the US, was taken as a sign that Sino-US relations are on the mend. ''I think its fair to say we have turned a corner,'' said a State Department spokesman. But several contentious issues remain. One is human rights. On Monday, an exiled leader of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising implored Hillary Clinton not to ''kowtow'' to the Chinese on human rights during her upcoming Beijing visit. (Opinion, Page 19; Editorial, Page 20) Sales of new homes rose for a third consecutive month in July, the Commerce Department said yesterday. The trend has been helped by cheap mortgages and a sales surge in the South. Immigrants make up a greater percentage of the US population than at any time since World War II, the Census Bureau said Monday. Currently 8.7 percent - or almost 1 in 11 Americans - is foreign-born. One-third live in California. One-fifth arrived here in the past five years. New York sent 86 mostly non-violent convicted felons who are illegal aliens back to their native Colombia Monday. A law that is unique to the state allows convicted illegals to be deported prior to completing their jail term. Governor Pataki said the move will save about $2 million and free up cells for violent criminals. State officials say New York's 69 prisons have 2,859 illegal aliens and that more would be deported shortly. Oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would cause ''irreparable'' environmental damage - more than previously thought, the Interior Department said Monday. Congress is set to consider opening the previously off-bounds fields. Clinton and the Interior Department oppose the move. But the GOP is counting on revenues from drilling there to help balance the budget. Clinton's prized AmeriCorps program costs more than its director admits and is wasteful, GOP Senator Grassley said yesterday, citing a GAO report. The program provides a living allowance and school credits in return for full-time community service work. It costs $20,000 per volunteer, not the $13,000 that the AmeriCorps director claims, Grassley said. And 50 percent of the program's cost goes to overhead, according to the report. Clinton said he will veto a House plan to eliminate AmeriCorps. Nabbing ''deadbeat parents'' when they cross state lines is President Clinton's strategy to force delinquent parents to pay child support. Clinton sent the Justice Department into court Monday to protect the law that enables such cross-state enforcement. It was ruled unconstitutional July 26 by a federal court. A new decision is not immediately expected. Meanwhile, Clinton and Congress are moving to require states to deny drivers' and professional licenses to deadbeat parents. Senator Packwood said he was occasionally ''so drunk'' that he could not remember some of the nights that his accusers say he sexually harassed them. ''That doesn't excuse the conduct, but I simply can't remember,'' he said yesterday. Asked whether he denies the charges that he made unwanted advances toward 19 women, the Oregon Republican said, ''Some I do. Some I don't. Some I very honestly can't remember.'' The FBI passed out details on the Unabomber in several Chicago-area high schools, hoping teachers would remember a student's face or anarchist ideas and help them find the elusive mail-bomb terrorist. The FBI thinks he may have gone to high school or college in the area. The World Bosnian Serbs fired the mortar shell Monday that killed at least 39 people and wounded 80 others in a Sarajevo open-air market, the UN said yesterday. The UN may ask NATO for punitive airstrikes. But a NATO attack would squelch the latest peace efforts, which resumed yesterday in Paris. The UN secretly removed about 80 remaining peacekeepers overnight from the ''safe area'' Gorazde to avoid Serb hostage-taking. Meanwhile, the US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt cancelled a scheduled port visit to Greece and headed back toward Bosnia with dozens of warplanes. (Story, Page 1.) Hutu Rwandan Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu resigned Aug. 28, although the Tutsi-led government said he was sacked. Fearing new violence, UN officials asked permission yesterday to pull out nonessential staff from Goma, Zaire. Zaire's prime minister said that all Rwandan refugees must leave Zaire by year's end or be deported. And in an attempt to restore stability to Burundi, the UN Security Council called Monday for a commission to investigate the 1993 assassination of the country's president. (Story, Page 6.) Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze was ''slightly wounded'' yesterday when a bomb planted in his motorcade exploded while heading through Tblisi to sign a new Constitution. PLO leader Arafat met US peace envoy Dennis Ross in Gaza yesterday to discuss peace moves with Israel. Also, Israel eased a six-day closure of Jericho. Japan will take part in a UN peacekeeping operation in the Golan Heights. And Israel's attorney general said Monday that soldiers and officers accused of killing Egyptian prisoners-of-war in 1956 will not be prosecuted. Beijing accused Amnesty International of deep prejudice against China after the group attacked China's human rights record in its first news conference in the country yesterday. In the past two weeks, China has executed 16 people as part of a security operation to make Beijing safe for the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, which opens Monday. (Opinion, Page 19 and Editorial, Page 20.) American hostage Donald Hutchings spoke with Indian officials by radio Monday. He and three other Western hostages being he militants in Kashmir are in good health, he said. It was the first direct contact between the government and hostages since the men were abducted and raised hopes of an agreement to free the captives. (Editorial, Page 20.) A probe into whether Colombian President Ernesto Samper's campaign accepted drug traffickers' money moved closer to him: Prosecutors filed charges against his campaign director. The move indicates they have enough evidence to counter Fernando Botero's denials that the Cali cartel helped fund the campaign. Evidence shows a Mexican gunman accused in the murder of ruling party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was in telephone contact with officials at the presidential residence before the killing, opposition Sen. Guillermo del Rio said Monday. North Korea sought emergency relief from the UN, apparently for flood damage, after typhoon Janis swept through the region. The North also asked the UN Children's Fund for about $50,000 worth of beans, raising speculation of crop damage. The typhoon also left 45 people dead and nine missing in South Korea. Japan said yesterday it was freezing some aid to China to protest Beijing's recent nuclear tests. Separately, the Export-Import Bank of Japan said it would lend the General Motors Corp. up to $42 million to help GM promote its vehicles in Japan. Etcetera It's almost too much to bear: An Australian state, New South Wales, has banned koala cuddling. But it's for the good of the little critters: Cuddling, it seems, frightens them. Tourists will still be able to stroke or pet the teddy-bear look-alikes. They will also be permitted to put their arms around a koala, the law specifies, as long as the creature remains on a tree branch. The world's largest maker of instruments hopes musicians will pay not to be heard - especially while practicing. A device unveiled Monday by the Yamaha Corp. reduces the volume of trumpets to the level of a whisper. Headphones let the player hear the music at a normal volume. Norwegian polar adventurer Borge Ousland wants to be the first person to cross Antarctica alone and unaided. But the trek could turn into a 1,677-mile race, since Briton Roger Mear is planning to attempt the same feat. Ousland would set out in November. Following in the path of city buses, Tehran's minibuses will have separate sections for women and men to avoid millions of ''sins,'' an Iranian official says. Every day 370,000 women ride minibuses, and ''if 10 men brush against them, 3.7 million sins are committed every day,'' Muhammad Ali Tarfa, head of the public transport authority, said Monday. Top-Grossing Films, Aug. 25-27 (Preliminary figures) 1. ''Mortal Kombat,'' $10.3 million 2. ''Desperado,'' $8 million 2. ''Dangerous Minds,'' $8 million 4. ''A Walk in the Clouds,'' $5.4 million 5. ''Lord of Illusions,'' $4.9 million 6. ''Something to Talk About,'' $3.8 million 7. ''Waterworld,'' $3.6 million 8. ''Babe,'' $3.5 million 9. ''Apollo 13,'' $2.5 million 9. ''The Net,'' $2.5 million - Associated Press '' Don't blow it, Jacques.'' - An Australian bumper sticker, on impending French nuclear tests in the South Pacific ordered by President Jacques Chirac.