HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ An American nurse of Vietnamese descent has been accused of illegally spreading propaganda and circulating documents.

Man Thi Jones, of Sacramento, Calif., was detained and interrogated by local authorities in southern Vietnam after she was caught distributing pens with Christian crosses, the government said in a statement issued today.

Jones, 54, may face a stiff penalty, but was not under arrest or in custody, according to the Foreign Ministry's statement.

Diplomatic sources, however, indicated that Jones' passport had been seized and that her travel within Vietnam was restricted.

In the past, visitors accused of spreading religious propaganda have been detained, fined and expelled, an advisory from the U.S. State Department said.

Jones, a naturalized U.S. citizen, arrived in Vietnam on Oct. 3 on a tourist visa and went to visit relatives in Ninh Thuan province on Vietnam's southeastern coast.

She contends she was given permission to distribute the pens to orphans.

Her husband, Jack Wade Jones, earlier this month said his wife was being held in a small village outside the coastal town of Phan Rang, about 155 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

He said his wife had been forced to sign a confession after verbal harassment and intimidation.

It was unclear if she was still in the village.

U.S. embassy officials have not visited Jones, said a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said there was little the United States government could do if Jones had violated Vietnamese law.

Government authorities confirmed the Sacramento woman was accused of violating Vietnamese law, but refused to specify the charges other than saying she had illegally spread propaganda and circulated documents.

Vietnam takes a harsh stance against some religious activities, particularly proselytizing.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly cited Hanoi for suppressing religious freedoms and jailing Catholic priests and Buddhist monks.

Jones became a U.S. citizen in 1975 after coming to America with her husband, who was serving with the Air Force during the Vietnam War. She is a registered nurse.