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Defense Secretary William Cohen signed an agreement Saturday establishing a southeast European peace force and again threatened NATO intervention unless violence stops in Kosovo.

The peace force would engage in humanitarian activities, such as aid relief and keeping truces -- similar to U.N. multinational peacekeeping forces.

"This new, multinational peace force holds out hope that we can build a new era," Cohen said.

Also signing the agreement were defense ministers from NATO members Italy, Turkey and Greece and from five prospective NATO members in the Balkans: Macedonia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania.

The signing also was an opportunity for NATO members to discuss options for handling the crisis in Serbia's Kosovo province, where more than 700 people have been killed since a Serb and Yugoslav crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists began in February.

After the U.N. Security Council last week authorized unspecified further action if Serb and Yugoslav forces continue their offensive in Kosovo, NATO firmed up preparations for air and missile attacks.

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