Protestant and Catholic politicians, bound together as never before by popular support for Northern Ireland's peace agreement, took their first footsteps Sunday onto a new political landscape.
But the path they must travel together, into elections next month for a new multiparty government, looks like a minefield.Can the would-be head of the new Belfast administration, Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, win sufficient Protestant support for a government that would include the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party?
And can Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams govern alongside Trimble without delivering gradual Irish Republican Army disarmament - or run-ning the risk that IRA militants will regroup behind new leaders?
Above all, how can the cross-community government get off the ground when Trimble won't even talk to Adams?
Northern Ireland's voters showed Friday that they want it to work, with 71 percent endorsing the compromise political accord struck April 10 among the British and Irish governments and eight party leaders - most crucially, Trimble and Adams.
"The time has come for Mr. Adams to deliver," Trimble said Sunday, rebuffing calls for him to stop treating Adams as a pariah after Friday's referendum.
The vote result was unprecedented in Northern Ireland, where one side's gain is normally presumed to be the other side's loss. This time, near-universal Catholic support for the agreement didn't stop about half of the province's majority Protestant voters from backing it, too.
But Trimble said he wouldn't talk to Adams until Sinn Fein and IRA leaders deliver "a clear statement that this terrorist war - this squalid, dirty little terrorist war - is over, that there's a commitment to peaceful means, there'll be no return to violence."
He said that means the IRA must start disarming by October, the deadline for the new administration to form, and finish the job by mid-2000.
But opponents of the IRA's July 1997 truce immediately responded to the referendum result by trying to mount attacks.
A small bomb abandoned near a suburban Belfast train station partly exploded Sunday as British army experts tried to defuse it with a remote-controlled robot. No one was injured.
Later, while Trimble spoke, the discovery of another apparent bomb forced authorities to stop Belfast-to-Dublin trains near the Catholic section of Lurgan, 30 miles southwest of Belfast.
While no one claimed responsibility, police commanders in both parts of Ireland blamed the incidents on a band of IRA defectors dubbed "RIRA," or Real IRA.
Adams - painfully aware that even the most token disarmament by the IRA would encourage a wider split - said Trimble needs to make more gestures in his direction.
Adams said the disarmament issue "isn't crucial" to most voters who supported the accord, who want "dialogue without pre-con-di-tions."
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, meanwhile, said he looks forward to Sinn Fein being part of the new assembly, but said people want the gunmen "out of their hair."
"Working together with the other parties on the executive in a form of government is what I would like to see them doing," Ahern said in an interview with RTE, the state broadcasting service.
"If we are sensible and calm about it, we can do it."
Adams also urged Trimble to start working to defuse a likely sectarian confrontation in Portadown, a staunchly Protestant town in Trimble's own British parliamentary district.
For the past two summers, Catholic protesters led by a former IRA prisoner have tried to block an annual Protestant Orange Order march past Portadown's main Catholic section. The confrontation, resolved in 1996 and 1997 by police forcing protesters off the roadway, has triggered widespread rioting.
Adams said he supported Orangemen's right to march but wanted them to "make a gesture" by backing off this time. And he said Trimble, a past champion of the Portadown Orangemen, should negotiate directly with the protesters.
But Trimble, already exhausted from the past three weeks' campaigning for Protestant "yes" votes, now faces an even more bruising battle for the June 25 election to Northern Ireland's new legislative Assembly, the cornerstone of the agreement.
The 108-seat Assembly is supposed to take over many responsibilities now held directly by the British government. But rules designed to ensure that Protestant and Catholic lawmakers work together, not try to outvote the other, could produce decision-making deadlock if anti-agreement politicians can form a big enough bloc.
Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley, the "no" campaigner whose hard-line party is Trimble's chief rival for Protestant votes, has said winning 30 seats would "ensure that we can frustrate anything the Assembly wants to do."