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[ale] cannot change passwords - newbie

RH 6.2/i386

Am receiving a "cannot lock /etc/passwd" "cannot write to /etc/smbpasswd"
errors when trying to change pwd's with the "userconf" command

running a pwck and grpck command also brings "unable to lock file" errors

i have enabled shadow passwords on this system
file permissions are 644 for /etc/shadow etc/group and etc/smbpasswd

tried to manually edit the /etc/passwd, etc/group and etc/smbpasswd files to
add a user but was not successful

What could I be missing ?
incorrect file permissions ?
a service I might have turned off ?

thanks in advance

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