Pakistan bars US diplomat from leaving amid tense relations

ISLAMABAD, May 12 (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities have barred a U.S. diplomat involved in a fatal traffic accident from leaving the country, forcing an American military aircraft flown in for his departure to leave without him, local media reported on Saturday.

The move came a day after Pakistan said it would restrict the movements of all American diplomats in the country in response to Washington's similar restrictions on Pakistani embassy diplomats.

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad declined to comment on the media reports, and a U.S. State Department spokesperson in Washington would neither confirm nor deny them.

"For the privacy and security of those involved, we cannot disclose the diplomat's current location," the State Department spokesperson said.

RELATED: Pakistan's crumbling architectural heritage

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Pakistan's crumbling architectural heritage

A residential building, built in the British colonial period, stands in Karachi, Pakistan, February 20, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A staircase for emergency exit is seen on a building built in the British colonial period in Karachi, Pakistan, February 20, 2018.

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A relief showing a woman is displayed on the ceiling of a balcony, which was built in the British colonial period, Karachi, Pakistan, February 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

The Ideal Life Assurance Co's Building, built in the British colonial period is seen in Karachi, Pakistan, January 31, 2018.

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A balcony is seen on a building built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, February 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A building, built in the British colonial period, stands in Karachi, Pakistan, February 19, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

Crossed flags and Chakra (spinning wheel) are depicted on a wall a building from the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, February 2, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

The balcony of a building, built in the British colonial period, is seen in Karachi, Pakistan, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

Pillars stand at the exterior of the Sindh Wildlife department building, previously the Freemason Hall (Hope Lodge), built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, February 4, 2018

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A wooden staircase and mosaic tile pattern flooring are seen at the Lady Dufferin Hospital, built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, January 31, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

The Frere Hall building, from the British colonial period, stands in Karachi, January 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A rickshaw (tuk-tuk) moves past the Edulji Dinshaw Dispensary, built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, January 31, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

Victorian tiled flooring is seen at the entrance of a building, now the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) office, built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, February 16, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A sign covers a window of a building built in the British colonial period in Karachi, Pakistan, February 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

Bamboo scaffolding is fixed to a building, built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, February 9, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A metal sculpture is seen on the premises of the Frere Hall, built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, January 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A marble bust of Queen Victoria is displayed in the corridor of the Lady Dufferin Hospital, built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, January 31, 2018.

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

Max Denso Hall and Library, built in memory of Max Denso during the British colonial period, stands in Karachi, Pakistan, February 3, 2018.

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A pair of lion sculptures are seen on the pillars of an old building, built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, February 2, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

Two female busts are seen on a building, built in the British colonial period, in Karachi, Pakistan, January 31, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

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Pakistan is a crucial link to supplying American troops fighting the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. But Washington has long believed it actually shelters the Taliban's leaders, and President Donald Trump has cut off military aid in an effort to pressure Pakistan.

The latest blow to relations came on Saturday, when Pakistani authorities banned a U.S. military attache from leaving as planned, Pakistan's The Nation and Express Tribune newspapers reported.

A day earlier, an Islamabad court had ruled his diplomatic immunity may not apply in the April 7 traffic accident in which the U.S. attache's vehicle hit a motorcycle, killing the 22-year-old driver, both papers reported.

As a result, a U.S. Air Force C130 flown in to Pakistan's Nur Khan air base outside Islamabad was forced to leave without him on Friday, Geo TV and the two newspapers reported.

Separately, Pakistan's foreign ministry said it would apply travel restrictions to all U.S. diplomatic staff similar to those applied by Washington, according to a notification sent to the U.S. Embassy on Friday and obtained by Reuters.

The new U.S. rules require diplomats to obtain permission to travel more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) from their stations, the local Dawn newspaper reported.

The U.S. State Department on Saturday confirmed the new restrictions on its employees in Pakistan but declined further comment.

"We are in regular communication with our Pakistani counterparts. We do not discuss details of diplomatic conversations," the spokesperson said.

U.S.-Pakistani relations have deteriorated significantly since the beginning of the year, when Trump abruptly announced in a tweet a cutoff of military aid, which he said treated the United States with "nothing but lies and deceit" for 15 years. (Reporting by Kay Johnson in ISLAMABAD and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON. Writing by Kay Johnson Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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