NEW DELHI  - India has asked the US embassy to close down commercial activities at its sports and leisure centre in New Delhi in the latest development in a diplomatic row, a source told AFP Wednesday.

The foreign ministry has given the embassy a January 16 deadline to stop non-diplomatic staff using its sprawling American Community Support Association facilities.

Commercial members pay thousands of dollars a year to use the swimming pool, gym and and bowling alley, as well as the bar and restaurant which serve imported alcohol and food at low rates.

“These facilities only meant for the embassy’s diplomatic staff are being used commercially, offered to non-diplomatic individuals,” a foreign ministry official told AFP.

The ministry official said recent curbs on the import of duty-free alcohol and the ban on non-diplomatic staff using ACSA could lead to it becoming economically unviable.  The foreign ministry has also reportedly given directions to traffic and transport authorities in the capital to remove the immunity of US diplomatic vehicles to traffic fines.  Relations between the two countries were thrown into crisis after the December 12 arrest of Devyani Khobragade, a consular official in New York who said she was strip-searched in custody.  She was arrested on suspicion of visa fraud and underpaying her domestic servant, but India claims she should have benefited from diplomatic immunity and is outraged at her treatment.

India retaliated within a week of her arrest by dismantling extra security barricades and spike strips around the US embassy complex in New Delhi, which were put in place after the September 11, 2001 attacks.  Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid has vowed to bring back Khobragade to India and to restore her dignity.