BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ NATO said Saturday an international, alliance-led force could go into Kosovo to return refugees ahead of any signing by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of a Kosovo peace agreement.

Until now, NATO was planning for a peacekeeping force on the ground in Kosovo only after compelling Milosevic to enter a peace agreement with the Kosovo Albanians.

A NATO source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was the first time the alliance was considering such a force without Milosevic first signing the draft agreement signed by Kosovo Albanians at peace talks in Rambouillet, France.

But it remained unclear what would trigger such an intervention.

The source said such an international protection force would have to be NATO-led, reiterating the alliance's longstanding demand that it lead any international force in Kosovo.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the 19 NATO ambassadors had agreed that Yugoslavia must stop hostilities in Kosovo and accept the return of ethnic Albanian refugees there.

``NATO's ultimate objective is a political settlement based on the Rambouillet agreement,'' Shea said, reading a prepared statement.