BELGRADE, DEC. 3 -- Ethnic and political tension in the disintegrating Yugoslav federation increased sharply today as the country's defense minister threatened to use force to disarm police and local militia in the separatist northern republics.

The defense minister, Gen. Veljko Kadijevic, said the integrity of Yugoslavia was being subverted by the creation of regionally controlled armies.

"All armed forces established outside the {federal} armed forces will be forcibly disarmed," he said in remarks read over state television Sunday night and published today in national newspapers. "Those who created these armed forces will be held responsible before the law. There will be no bargaining and no compromises."

The statement provoked declarations of outrage and defiance in the separatist republics of Croatia and Slovenia.

Franjo Tudjman, president of Croatia, called Kadijevic's statement "a unique example of behavior that doesn't fit in with the laws of history. The army can't decide what is democratic and what is not, what is in the interest of progress and what is not."

"There is nobody who at this time could disarm our Territorial Defense Units," said Janez Jansa, Slovenia's defense minister.

Democratic elections this year in both Croatia and Slovenia, the richest and most Westernized of Yugoslavia's six republics, have swept away Communist regimes and brought to power nationalist leaders demanding a fundamental weakening in the Yugoslav state. They want complete control over their economic and military affairs.

Slovenia is soon to hold a referendum on whether to secede from Yugoslavia. Its National Assembly has passed a constitutional amendment that transfers control over local Territorial Defense Forces from the federal government to the republic.

The Croatian government has begun a systematic purge of ethnic Serbs from its local police and militia.

The defense minister's tough words come just a week before presidential and parliamentary elections here in Serbia, the largest Yugoslav republic.

The army's threat is widely interpreted here as a bid by Serbia's Socialist leadership, of which the army is an integral part, to win votes by playing on ethnic rivalry between Serbs and their northern countrymen, the Croats and Slovenes.

Former Communists in Serbia (who renamed themselves Socialists this year) are fighting for their political lives against a powerful tide of anti-Communist sentiment in Yugoslavia.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who is described by his political rivals as "the last Stalinist in Eastern Europe," has built his political career on promises to ethnic Serbs that their rights as the country's largest ethnic group will be respected by all Yugoslavs. He has promised them Yugoslavia will survive and will be led by Serbs.

Sunday's election, the first free vote in Serbia in 45 years, is expected to test whether ethnic fervor will keep Milosevic and his ruling Socialist Party in power -- despite evidence that Serbs are as fed up with socialism as are voters across most of Eastern Europe.

In the northern republics today, the federal army was accused of playing politics.

Referring to the federal defense minister's warning, Slovenian Defense Minister Jansa said: "This statement comes at the culmination of the election campaign in Serbia and at the time when Slovenia is about to decide about the plebiscite on independence. It is an attempt to put pressure on Serbs to vote for Milosevic's party, and in Slovenia to make as many people as possible abstain from voting."

Besides ordering local militias to give up their arms, Kadijevic insisted that the federal army will not allow itself to be stripped of its "socialist" orientation by outside political forces.

"Those who did not participate in the creation of the Yugoslav Peoples' Army will not be allowed to dictate the army's political organization," Kadijevic said.

"The ideas of socialism . . . belong to the future," he added. "The experience of developed countries confirms that {socialism} is one of the greatest achievements of contemporary civilization."

His statement runs counter to the expressed political preferences of voters in free elections this year in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia, where former Communists have fared poorly. Serbia and the sixth republic, Montenegro, vote Sunday.

"General Kadijevic advocates depoliticization of the army, but militarization of politics," Slavin Letica, a key adviser to the Croatian president, said today. "He doesn't allow the politicians to interfere with the army, but allows the generals to interfere with politics."

Officers in the Yugoslav army, more than 60 percent of whom are ethnic Serbs, live a relatively pampered life in a country buffeted by inflation and having the highest cost of living in Eastern Europe. They get free housing, relatively high pay and special access to vacation resorts.

A defeat for the Socialist Party in Sunday's election would probably isolate the army, threaten its privileges and imperil the continued presence of the party as a force in the military.

Recently, several former senior leaders of the once-ruling League of Communists held a founding meeting for a new Communist party. Several senior army generals, including the federal defense minister and the interior minister attended, as well as Milosevic and other powerful Serbian Socialists. The new party plans to run candidates in the as-yet-unannounced federal elections.