MINGORA (Reuters) - A spate of killings of tribal elders in Swat valley in recent days has raised fears that Taliban militants are returning to their former stronghold. A year ago, the army mounted a major offensive in Swat against militants. They have largely been driven out of the scenic valley, a former Taliban bastion where they killed opponents and security personnel with impunity. The majority of the tens of thousands of people displaced by the offensive have returned to their homes. But the killings of at least six pro-government elders over the past week have rekindled fears among residents that the Taliban are regrouping. People are very frightened after these target killings, said Sabih-ur-Rehman, a senior member of a government-backed peace committee. Rehman narrowly escaped an attack by militants brandishing automatic weapons on April 19 in Koza Banda, a village on the outskirts of Swats main town of Mingora. His uncle, Behr-e-Karam Khan, who was chairman of the peace committee, and another elder were killed. The attack did not happen in the night. It happened in the broad daylight. Thats why people are very scared, said Ali Bahadur, a friend of the killed men. After clearing the area of the militants, authorities encouraged influential elders of Swat to set up peace committees and community police in an effort to restore order in the region where militants terrorised people by hanging the bodies of their opponents in public squares. Security officials said the latest killings appeared to be aimed at terrorising the local leadership, which is supporting the armys operation. Authorities have beefed up security for elders and granted special permission to let them keep guards for their self-defence. We were so confident after the military operation that we had given up keeping weapons with us, Bahadur said. But we have no other option but to carry weapons once again, Bahadur said, holding a Kalashnikov rifle in his hand. Soldiers have also been deployed at elders residences. In an apparent show of support for the people of Swat, Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani visited the region on Wednesday and assured the people that the military would not abandon them. Swat police chief Qazi Ghulam Farooq also said security had been tightened after the killings. We are trying to catch those behind the killers and Inshallah (God willing), we will do it. While militants can intensify their campaign of attacks in an effort to scare people, they could not regain territory lost to the army, analysts said. Thats not possible for them, said Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on militant and tribal affairs.