Slovenia will use force to defend its sovereignty and independence if the Yugoslav army refuses to respect the right of the republic's citizens to self-determination, a senior government official said Saturday.

"We say publicly and directly to the Yugoslav army leadership that Slovenian army reservists will not be the first to use arms. But they will respond to violence with violence," Slovenian Prime Minister Lojze Peterle told a group of foreign correspondents."But, we believe this will not happen and that the army will respect the constitutional rights that every nation has: the right for self-determination," said the 42-year-old senior member of the ruling coalition of nationalist parties, the Democratic Union.

Peterle's comments came a day before the most Westernized and economically developed of Yugoslavia's six republics was to hold a plebiscite that would arm its government with the authority to declare independence as a way out of the country's grinding ethnic morass.

The Marxist-led Yugoslav military, the last significant repository of the ideals of the late communist dictator Josip Broz Tito, has been fueling fears of intervention in Slovenia, with senior officers warning that the army would use force to preserve a socialist federation.

The Democratic Union government, which has been embroiled for months in a dispute with the army over command of its military reserve force, has posted additional security personnel around important public buildings.

The plebiscite has also been condemned by the country's eight-man collective presidency and national Parliament.