A COMMUNITY which wants to be among the first to buy its land under new laws yesterday highlighted a weakness in the proposed legislation.

A group of crofters wants to purchase 2300 acres of the 9500-acre Durness estate in Laid, Sutherland, under measures currently being debated at Holyrood.

They now fear the anticipated buyout from Vibel SA, the Liechtenstein-based owner, could be undermined because of mineral rights the Laid Grazings Committee wants to exploit.

Under section three of the bill, crofting communities can buy their land whether or not the owner is willing to sell. It also gives them the right to buy the mineral and sporting rights at a price set by an independent valuer.

But if mineral rights have been leased they cannot force the leaseholder to sell and the lease will run its full course, the executive confirmed yesterday.

Vibel has leased the mineral rights to Ian Wilson, the factor.

Hugh MacLellan, clerk for the Laid Grazings Committee, said: ''It strikes us as very strange that if a landowner has the mineral rights we can make him sell them, but if they are leased out there is nothing we can do.''

Mr MacLellan said that among the community's ideas for the land was the construction of chalets and a heritage/geology trail.

However, he said: ''We would need Mr Wilson's permission. He wants us to sign an agreement saying that we would not try and buy land which could have potential for mineral extraction. In fact, every time we try and do anything he will be a weight round our necks.''

He said Mr Wilson had already tried to pre-empt a buyout with a proposal to hand over 51% of the Laid common grazings to the residents' association without consulting the grazings committee.

Mr Wilson, who also holds a lease on the mineral rights at Lingerbay in Harris, where he sought to establish Europe's largest coastal superquarry, said: ''If the crofters buy the land, they would get the same royalties from any mineral working as any landlord. But we have already indicated there is no chance of any large- scale surface working within the Laid common grazings.''

He declined to say how long his lease would last, but confirmed that he and others now had a controlling interest in Vibel SA, adding: ''That does not mean I am the owner of the land. It is a different company.''

Meanwhile, crofters in Strontian yesterday told how their attempt to buy failed without the new land reform legislation.

The Ranachan croft, stretching over 1800 acres on the northern shore of Loch Sunart, was put on the market last March with an asking price of (pounds) 175,000 following the death of the elderly local owner.

Catriona Hunter, a retired nurse with a three-acre croft and secretary of the community council and action committee, said: ''We wanted to retain the ownership of the land in the community to allow younger people to have access to it. We were going to break it up into five crofts and leave an area of common land for common grazings, woodland schemes and a network of pathways.''

Eilidh-Ann Madden, who chaired the committee, said: ''We had a public meeting then did a survey . . . 137 were in favour of our plans, seven were unsure and three were against. That's not bad out of a population of about 300.''

The group offered (pounds) 200,000 but were outbid.

The land reform bill would have allowed Ranachan to be bought by the crofting community buying nearby land. Certainly, the group would have qualified under the general community right to buy as long as the price set by an independent valuer was met.