If you are just modifying a few keys of any particular map, I would use xmodmap. However, if you are completely changing a keyboard map (say qwerty to dvorak) I would use setxkbmap.
EDIT: the above mentioned file has the same note as the CHANGES_AND_HINTS.txt
You can try disabling hal for xinputs. But you will need a full xorg.conf file.
Option "AllowEmptyInput" "false"
Option "AutoAddDevices" "false"
Option "AutoEnableDevices" "false"
Being that you already tried the hal method, I would either give up and use setxkbmap but save hal for the other inputs and video card, or ditch hal and define a full xorg.conf file.
EDIT EDIT EDIT:
The solution might be simple...
Did you restart the hal service? It might not like your changes until it restarts and rereads the config file
.. obviously also restart x.
su -c '/etc/rc.d/rc.hald restart'